E.g., 12/04/2020
E.g., 12/04/2020

Mexican Immigrants in the United States

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Mexican Immigrants in the United States

A soccer fan displays a mix of regalia from the United States and Mexico at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

A soccer fan displays a mix of regalia from the United States and Mexico at the FIFA World Cup. (Photo: State Department)

Despite decreases in population size over the last decade, Mexicans remain the largest group of immigrants in the United States, accounting for about 24 percent of the nearly 45 million foreign-born residents. In 2019, there were about 10.9 million Mexican-born individuals living in the United States. This population declined by almost 780,000 people, or 7 percent, between 2010 and 2019, due in part to increased immigration enforcement and in part to a strengthening Mexican economy. In recent years, the number of Mexicans leaving the United States has outpaced the number of new arrivals, although the country remains far and away the top destination for Mexican emigrants.

Since 2013, Mexico has ceased to be the top country of origin for recent immigrants to the United States, overtaken by India and China. As with immigrants overall, recent arrivals from Mexico are more likely to be college graduates than those who arrived in prior decades.

Figure 1. Mexican Immigrant Population in the United States, 1980-2019

Sources: Data from U.S. Census Bureau 2010 and 2019 American Community Surveys (ACS), and Campbell J. Gibson and Kay Jung, "Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850-2000" (Working Paper no. 81, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2006), available online.

Click here to view an interactive chart showing the number of Mexican immigrants and their share of all U.S. immigrants over time.

The number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico has also been on the decline, although Mexicans still make up the majority of the unauthorized population. Mexicans accounted for 51 percent of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in 2018, according to estimates from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

Mexicans in the United States are more likely than other immigrant populations to be long-time U.S. residents, with nearly 60 percent having arrived more than 20 years ago. However, given that a relatively high proportion are unauthorized, Mexican immigrants overall are less likely to be naturalized U.S. citizens than other groups. They are also more likely to live in poverty and less likely to have health insurance than the overall immigrant population.

Most Mexicans who become legal permanent residents in the United States (referred to as LPR status, also known as getting a green card) do so through family reunification, either as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through other family-sponsored channels. Mexican immigrants have also benefited immensely from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary deportation relief and work authorization to unauthorized migrants who arrived as children and meet the program’s education and other eligibility criteria. In early 2020, there were more than 500,000 Mexican participants in the DACA program, accounting for the vast majority of active DACA recipients.

The United States is overwhelmingly the most popular destination for Mexicans living abroad, accounting for 97 percent of all Mexican emigrants. In fact, of all Mexicans residing either in or outside of Mexico in 2019, 8 percent were in the United States. Canada is home to the next largest population of Mexicans (86,000), followed by Spain (53,000), Guatemala (18,000), and Germany (17,000), according to mid-2019 United Nations Population Division estimates. Click here to view an interactive map showing where migrants from Mexico and other countries have settled worldwide. Within the United States, more than half of all Mexican immigrants live in one of two states: California and Texas.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau (the most recent 2019 American Community Survey [ACS] as well as pooled 2014-18 ACS data), the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, and the World Bank, this Spotlight provides information on the Mexican immigrant population in the United States, focusing on its size, geographic distribution, and socioeconomic characteristics.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Distribution by State and Key Cities
In the 2014-18 period, most immigrants from Mexico lived in California (36 percent) Texas (22 percent), Illinois (6 percent), and Arizona (5 percent). The next six most populous states—Florida, Georgia, Washington, North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada—were home to an additional 13 percent of the Mexican-born population. The four counties with the most Mexican immigrants were Los Angeles County in California, Harris County in Texas, Cook County in Illinois, and Dallas County in Texas. Together, these counties accounted for 22 percent of the Mexican immigrant population.

Figure 2. Top States of Residence for Mexican Immigrants in the United States, 2014-18

Note: Pooled 2014-18 ACS data were used to get statistically valid estimates at the state level for smaller-population geographies. Not shown are the populations in Alaska and Hawaii, which are small in size; for details, visit the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Migration Data Hub for an interactive map showing geographic distribution of immigrants by state and county, available online.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2014-18 ACS.

Click here for an interactive map highlighting the states and counties with the highest concentrations of immigrants from Mexico and other countries.

As of 2014-18, the U.S. cities with the largest number of Mexicans were the greater Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Dallas metropolitan areas. Close to 31 percent of Mexican immigrants in the United States lived in these four metro areas.

Figure 3. Top Metropolitan Areas of Residence for Mexican Immigrants in the United States, 2014-18

Note: Pooled 2014-18 ACS data were used to get statistically valid estimates at the metropolitan statistical-area level for smaller-population geographies.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2014-18 ACS.

Click here for an interactive map that highlights the metropolitan areas with the highest concentrations of immigrants from Mexico and other countries.

Table 1. Top Concentrations of Mexican Immigrants by Metropolitan Area, 2014-18

Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2014-18 ACS.

English Proficiency
Mexican immigrants are less likely to be proficient in English than the overall foreign-born population. In 2019, about 66 percent of Mexicans ages 5 and over reported limited English proficiency, compared to about 46 percent of all immigrants. Approximately 4 percent of Mexican immigrants spoke only English at home, versus 16 percent of all immigrants.

Note: Limited English Proficient (LEP) status refers to those who indicated on the ACS questionnaire that they spoke English less than “very well.”

Age, Education, and Employment

In 2019, Mexican immigrants were about the same average age as the overall foreign-born population but older than the U.S.-born population. Their median age was about 45 years old, compared to 46 for all immigrants and 37 for the native-born population. Mexican immigrants were more likely than the native- and overall foreign-born populations to be of working age (18 to 64 years old; see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Age Distribution of the U.S. Population by Origin, 2019

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 ACS.

Mexicans adults have much lower rates of educational attainment than both the native- and overall foreign-born populations. In 2019, approximately 53 percent of Mexican immigrants ages 25 and older lacked a high school diploma or equivalent, compared to 26 percent of foreign-born adults and 8 percent of U.S.-born adults. Fewer than 8 percent of Mexican immigrants reported having a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 33 percent of both U.S.-born and all immigrant adults. However, the college-educated share among Mexicans who arrived within the past five years was much higher: 17 percent.

Mexicans participate in the labor force at slightly higher rates than the native-born and overall foreign-born populations. About 69 percent of Mexican immigrants ages 16 and older were in the civilian labor force in 2019, compared to 67 percent of the foreign-born population and 62 percent of the U.S.-born population. Compared to those two groups, Mexicans were more likely to be employed in the following occupations: service; natural resources, construction, and maintenance; and production, transportation, and material moving (see Figure 5). 

Figure 5. Employed Workers in the U.S. Civilian Labor Force (ages 16 and older) by Occupation and Origin, 2019

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 ACS.

Income and Poverty

On average, Mexicans have lower incomes than the overall foreign- and native-born populations. In 2019, households headed by a Mexican immigrant had a median annual income of $51,000, compared to $64,000 for all immigrant households and $66,000 for native-born-led households.

In 2019, Mexican immigrants were more likely to be in poverty (17 percent) than immigrants overall (14 percent) or the U.S. born (12 percent).

Immigration Pathways and Naturalization

Mexicans are much less likely to be naturalized U.S. citizens than immigrants overall. In 2019, 34 percent of Mexican immigrants had become U.S. citizens, compared to 52 percent of the total foreign-born population.

Compared to all immigrants, Mexicans are more likely to have arrived in the United States at least a decade ago. The largest share of Mexican immigrants, approximately 59 percent, arrived prior to 2000, followed by 28 percent who arrived between 2000 and 2009. About 13 percent have arrived since 2010 (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Immigrants from Mexico and All Immigrants in the United States by Period of Arrival, 2019

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 ACS.

In fiscal year (FY) 2019, Mexico was the top country of origin for new permanent residents; approximately 156,100, or 15 percent, of the 1 million new LPRs were from Mexico. Most Mexicans who obtain green cards do so through family reunification channels. In FY 2019, 85 percent of Mexicans who received a green card that year did so either as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or green-card holder or as another family member of a citizen, a much higher share than the 69 percent of all new LPRs (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Immigration Pathways of Mexican and All Legal Permanent Residents in the United States, 2019

Notes: Family-sponsored: Includes adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens as well as spouses and children of green-card holders. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens: Includes spouses, minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens. Diversity Visa lottery: The Immigration Act of 1990 established the Diversity Visa lottery program to allow entry to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The law states that 55,000 diversity visas in total are made available each fiscal year. Individuals born in Mexico are not eligible for the lottery. Percentages may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 2019 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Washington, DC: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, 2020), available online.

MPI estimates that as of 2018, approximately 5.6 million (51 percent) of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States were from Mexico.

Click here to view an interactive map showing the number and geographic distribution (by state and county) of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico and other top origin countries. Click here to view demographic information about unauthorized immigrants nationwide, in most states, and in select counties.

Mexico is also the largest origin country for recipients of the DACA program, which provides temporary deportation relief and work authorization. As of March 2020, there were 517,500 Mexican DACA recipients, representing 80 percent of the 643,600 active DACA recipients, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data.

Click here to view the top origin countries of DACA recipients and their U.S. states of residence.

Health Coverage

Mexicans have low health insurance coverage rates compared to all immigrants. In 2019, 38 percent of immigrants from Mexico were uninsured, compared to 20 percent of all immigrants and 8 percent of the U.S. born (see Figure 8).

Figure 8. Health Coverage for Mexican Immigrants, All Immigrants, and the U.S. Born, 2019

Note: The sum of shares by type of insurance is likely to be greater than 100 because people may have more than one type of insurance.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 ACS.

Diaspora

The Mexican diaspora is comprised of approximately 38.5 million U.S. residents who were either born in Mexico or reported Mexican ancestry or origin, according to MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 ACS.

Remittances

In 2019, more than $38.5 billion in remittances were sent to Mexico via formal channels, according to the World Bank. Remittances have steadily risen following a dip during the Great Recession in 2008-09. These remittances represented about 3 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019.  

Figure 9. Annual Remittance Flows to Mexico, 1990-2019

Note: The 2019 figure represents World Bank estimates.
Source: MPI tabulations of data from the World Bank Prospects Group, “Annual Remittances Data,” April 2020 update.

Click here to view an interactive chart showing annual remittances received and sent by Mexico and other countries.

Sources

Gibson, Campbell J. and Kay Jung. 2006. Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850-2000. Working Paper no. 81, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2006. Available online.

Gonzalez-Barrera, Ana. 2015. More Mexicans Leaving than Coming to the U.S. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Available online.

Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Migration Data Hub. N.d. Educational Attainment of U.S. Adults (ages 25 and over) by Nativity and Country of Birth, 2018. Accessed October 29, 2020. Available online.

United Nations Population Division. N.d. International Migrant Stock by Destination and Origin. Accessed October 29, 2020. Available online.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2020. 2018 American Community Survey. Accessed from Steven Ruggles, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 7.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Available online.

---. N.d. 2019 American Community Survey—Advanced Search. Accessed October 29, 2020. Available online.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 2020. Approximate Active DACA Recipients: Country of Birth as of March 31, 2020. Available online.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics. 2020. 2019 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Washington, DC: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.

World Bank Group. 2020. Annual Remittances Data, April 2020 update. Available online.