The US Census Bureau estimates that there were 37.6 million foreign-born people living in the United States in March 2010. The term “foreign-born” is how the Census Bureau refers to anyone born outside the United States. The foreign-born population includes naturalized citizens, non-citizen legal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants. NOTE: 37.6 million is just an estimate. The actual number is probably higher because there are millions of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows. For estimates of the size of the undocumented population, see my earlier article.
Nearly 31 percent of the foreign-born population is Mexican. Mexicans are by far the largest immigrant group in the United States. After Mexicans, the next largest immigrant groups are Chinese, Indians, and Filipinos, who each make up roughly 5 percent of the total immigrant population. Next are Vietnamese, Salvadorans, Cubans, Russians, Koreans, and Dominicans—groups that each make up roughly 2.5 percent of the immigrant population. The remaining 40 percent of immigrants come from an incredible mix of countries: Canada, Guatemala, Colombia, the United Kingdom, Jamaica, Germany, Haiti, Honduras, and many others. No country in the world has an immigrant population as remotely large and diverse as the United States.
How does immigration today compare to the past?
At more than 37 million people, the foreign-born population has never been higher (although the Great Recession that began in 2007 has caused a slowing of immigration, just as the Great Depression did in the 1930s). But because population is always increasing, a more useful and interesting way to make comparisons is to think about the number of immigrants relative to total US population. Today, about 12.5 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born. This is higher than the historical average, but definitely not record-breaking. Between 1850-1920, in fact, millions of immigrants came from places like Germany, Ireland, Italy, Russia, and Eastern Europe. Between 1860 and 1920, immigrants made up between 13.2 and 14.8 percent of total US population. Immigration plunged during and after the 1930s as a result of restrictive immigration laws and the Great Depression.