In a new analysis for the Center for Immigration Studies, my colleague Karen Zeigler and I show that the total foreign-born or immigrant population reached 47 million in April 2022 — the highest number ever in American history, and an increase of 2 million in just the first 16 months of the Biden administration.

These numbers are extraordinary, not only because they indicate that America has lost control of its borders, but also because they raise profound questions about how many people the country can successfully integrate.

The new estimates are derived from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), collected each month for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The foreign-born include all persons who were not US citizens at birth.

The Census Bureau and BLS are clear that illegal immigrants are included in their survey data, although some do get missed. The increase of 2 million since January 2021 is all the more striking because, in order for the foreign-born population to grow at all, new arrivals must exceed voluntary return-migration, deportations, and natural mortality (deaths). Also keep in mind that births to immigrants in the US by definition add only to the native-born population. Even children born to illegal immigrants are awarded US citizenship.

Foreign population
There is an increase of 2 million immigrants in the first 16 months of the Biden administration.

Quintupled since 1970

The increase in the total foreign-born population has been nothing short of dramatic in the last half-century. Since 2000, the total foreign-born population has grown by 50%. It has also doubled since 1990, tripled since 1980, and quintupled since 1970.

Of course, America’s total population was smaller in the past, so there were times when the immigrant share of the population was actually somewhat higher than it is today. As a share of the total population, the foreign-born now account for 14.3% of the population, or one in seven US residents — the highest percentage in 112 years. As recently as 1990 they were one in 13 US residents.

If present trends continue, the foreign-born share of the population will reach 14.9% by the end of next summer and continue to increase thereafter. That’s higher than 1910, when the figure was 14.7%, and the highest percentage in our nation’s history.Reflecting the ongoing border crisis, illegal immigrants account for approximately two-thirds of the foreign-born increase (1.4 million out of 2 million).

Mother carrying her little daughter
The total foreign-born population has grown by 50% since 2000.
ZUMA24.com/John Lamparski

This growth in the illegal immigrant population is vastly outpacing not only return migration, deportations, and deaths, as is true for the total foreign-born population, but also legalizations — for example, when an illegal immigrant is granted asylum or marries an American. Therefore, the number of new illegal immigrants settling in the country must be even higher than 1.4 million.

Most here legally

Despite the recent growth in the illegal immigrant population, about three-fourths of the overall foreign-born are still legal immigrants. Legal immigration has a much larger impact on American society than does illegal immigration.

Despite the record numbers, America’s political elites clamor for ever more immigration. Business-oriented Republicans and the leadership of the Democratic Party essentially want to give legal status to all those showing up at the border and amnesty to illegal immigrants already here. They take this position without any meaningful consideration of the absorption capacity of our country, including our schools, health care system, welfare programs, infrastructure, and job market.

Even more importantly, few in the political class ever even discuss how many people can be successfully assimilated.

An immigrant mother from Colombia
Children born to illegal immigrants are granted US citizenship.
Getty Images/Mario Tama

Given the numbers, it is certainly reasonable to ask if the foreign-born population is now so large that it may overwhelm the assimilation process.

The new numbers tell us that America is headed into uncharted territory.We have to decide as a country if we wish to go there.

Steven Camarota is the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C.

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