Photo 8-20-2014With immigration legislation now moribund in Congress, all eyes have turned to the White House to see what sorts of non-legislative fixes to the immigration system might be implemented by the Obama administration. While the administration’s deliberations remain private, it is almost certain that one of the fixes being contemplated is the granting of a temporary reprieve from deportation to some of the 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants now living in the United States. Reportedly, the administration’s actions could help parents of U.S. citizens and the parents of young people who received temporary legal status through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to avoid deportation.

In deciding exactly how many unauthorized immigrants deserve to be included in such a policy, it is necessary to get a sense of how many unauthorized men, women, and children have already formed substantial ties to the United States. Answering this question involves overcoming a common misperception that unauthorized immigrants consist, for the most part, of barely literate, single young men and women who have recently crossed the southern border and live solitary lives disconnected from U.S. society. The truth, however, is that unauthorized immigrants include adults and children, mothers and fathers, homeowners and people of faith, most of whom are invested in their communities.

Data from the Census Bureau and other sources paint a relatively detailed portrait of the unauthorized population and reveal the extent to which most unauthorized immigrants have roots in U.S. society. According to a new fact sheet from the American Immigration Council that summarizes this data:

  • Unauthorized immigrants account for roughly 1-in-20 workers in the United States.
  • Three-fifths of unauthorized immigrants have been in the United States for more than a decade.
  • Nearly half of adult unauthorized immigrants live in households with children under the age of 18.
  • Approximately 1 million unauthorized immigrants are children.
  • Roughly 4.5 million native-born U.S.-citizen children have at least one unauthorized parent.
  • Nearly half of longtime unauthorized immigrant households are homeowners.
  • Approximately two-fifths of unauthorized immigrant adults attend religious services every week.

In sum, the majority of unauthorized immigrants are long-time residents of the United States who have already become part of the nation’s social and economic fabric. Most are integrating into U.S. society not only through their jobs, but through their families and communities as well. If this is the measure by which we will judge the worthiness of an unauthorized immigrant to receive a deportation reprieve, then many of the unauthorized immigrants now living in this country would likely qualify.

Photo by Tim Green.

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