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New study: Texas’ undocumented immigrant population remained relatively stable in 2021

By Ali Juell, The Texas Tribune

New study: Texas’ undocumented immigrant population remained relatively stable in 2021” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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An estimated 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants were in the U.S. in 2021, a slight increase from 10.2 million in 2019 according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center. However, Texas’ population of unauthorized immigrants remained relatively stable at 1.6 million people.

Texas remains the state with the second-highest undocumented population in the U.S. behind California, which had a reported 1.9 million unauthorized immigrants in 2021.

The center notes that the report does not reflect changes in migrant apprehensions and expulsions along the U.S.-Mexico border, which began to increase in March 2021 and have since reached historic highs.

Despite no significant change in the total number of immigrants recorded in the study, the study points out that the demographics and geographical concentrations of unauthorized immigrants have changed.

Although Mexico is still the most common origin country for unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., the study found that the proportion of Mexico-born unauthorized immigrants has dropped significantly since 2017. In Texas, Mexican unauthorized immigrants decreased from 73% of unauthorized immigrants in 2016 to 55% in 2021.

The researchers note that general migration from Mexico to the U.S. has declined while there have been expanded pathways to lawful immigration from Mexico and other countries.

Nearly every other region of the world — including Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and Central America — saw increasing numbers of unauthorized immigration to the U.S. The largest increases in immigration came from Central America as well as South and East Asia.

Néstor Rodriguez, a UT-Austin professor of sociology, studies various aspects of immigration. He said there’s a host of reasons there are fewer unauthorized immigrants coming from Mexico, ranging from personal circumstances to increased job opportunities in certain regions of the country.

“Fortunately for Mexicans, there seems to be growth in the job market (there),” Rodriguez said. “It’s not in all areas of Mexico but certainly in the industrial north and around Mexico City.”

Unauthorized immigrants make up 8% of Texas’ workforce, second only to Nevada, according to the report’s labor force data.

Because more people of various ethnic populations are coming to the U.S., Rodriguez said this creates wider social networks that encourage further immigration.

Rodriguez says this creates more connections that motivate more people to come here and “join their cousins, brothers or sisters.”

Julia Gelatt, associate director of the Migration Policy Institute’s U.S. Immigration Policy Program, said demographic shifts in areas with high immigrant populations aren’t unheard of, like the changes seen in New York City’s immigrant population in the past.

“A lot of cities and a lot of states across the United States have seen shifts in their immigrant enclaves over time,” Gelatt said. “Some of those might be more gradual shifts and some might be more rapid.”

California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois were the six states with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations in the nation, a consistent trend since at least 1990.

Even though the states with the largest populations have remained consistent, the geographic patterns of unauthorized immigrants have changed noticeably. Back in 1990, 80% of unauthorized immigrants were living in those six states. In 2021, only 56% of unauthorized immigrants lived in those six states.

The shift in geographical trends suggests that there likely are more work opportunities and resources available in other parts of the country, Rodriguez said.

Even though it can be difficult to determine trends in immigration data, as unexpected factors like natural disasters or shifting government stability can largely influence immigration, Gelatt said recent data might indicate the beginning of new migration patterns.

“(In) the 1990s and early 2000s, Mexico was the big driver in the growth of the unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S.,” Gelatt said. “We might be in a new era, but … we (don’t) yet know what that’s going to mean for migration trends.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/11/21/texas-immigrants-pew-research/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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