Share of foreign-born population likely the highest in American history

With immigration much in the news these days, it’s maddening difficult to find concrete data on the phenomenon. Thousands of migrants are streaming across the southern border every day, but rigorous data collection lags behind by years.

In honor of citizenship day (Sept. 17) this year, the U.S. Census bureau wrote about the phenomenon of foreign-born.

The Bureau’s more recent estimates from 2022 (published last month) indicate that there were more than 46 million foreign-born persons residing in the United States out of a population of approximately 333 million. That works out to a percentage of about 13.9 percent (using actual estimates). The bureau records most of the foreign-born population as now holding American citizenship.

From Bureau data, we can determine that the foreign-born population increased by 912,000 in the one year between the 2021 and 2022 surveys. The overall population increased by almost 1.4 million during that period. Over the year, the net increase in foreign-born accounted for nearly two-thirds (65%) of the net population gain in America.

America has seen several waves of immigration over its long history. The Census Bureau noted back in 1999,

The highest percentages foreign born were 14.4 percent in 1870, 14.8 percent in 1890 and 14.7 percent in 1910.

As an absolute number, 46 million foreign-born would rank as an all-time record. But what has happened over the past two years?

There does not seem to be any concerted effort to track the aggregate numbers of migrants surging across the border and settling in the United States.

A recent Congressional report puts the number at 2.4 million per year, at just the U.S.-Mexico border, with each new month seemingly setting a new record.

Keeping the math simple, assume we’ve added another 5 million foreign-born to the population, over two years, without accounting for the unknown numbers of gotaways or entries across the northern border or airports.

Add another two million, over two years, in natural population increase to produce a total population of 340 million. 51 million divided by 340 million equals exactly 15 percent of the population, well above the largest share ever recorded in American history.

All of this is occurring without Congress having taken a vote or an executive order being issued. The surging foreign-born population has profound public policy impacts on education, housing, and health care, just to name a few issues.

As a partisan issue, there is a stark divide between the parties. A June survey by the Pew Charitable Trust ranks inflation as the number one issue nationally, and among Republicans particularly.

For Democrats, the top issue in 2023 is “gun violence.” For Republicans, immigration ranks as the third most important issue, after inflation and the budget deficit.

For Democrats, immigration doesn’t crack the top ten, ranking 14th out of 16 issues polled by Pew.

Something’s gotta give.