New study pinpoints undocumented immigrant population by county

Undocumented immigrants in Miami-Dade come mostly from Central and South America — largely from Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia and Venezuela, according to a new study that pinpoints foreign-born residents down to the county level.

The report, titled “An Analysis of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States by Country and Region of Birth,” also notes that Asians — particularly Chinese — are rapidly gaining on Central Americans as the second largest component of the undocumented population in the United States.

Released last month by the Washington-based research organization Migration Policy Institute (MPI), the 31-page report is perhaps the most detailed to date on undocumented immigrants in the United States, which it estimates at about 11 million. Report authorities also prepared an interactive map that pinpoints the number of undocumented immigrants by county, as well as their nationality and eligibility for legalization.

For example, the map shows that a total of 156,000 undocumented immigrants live in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, with the majority residing in Miami-Dade. Nicaraguans make up the largest number of undocumented immigrants in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties with about 22,000 — 8,000 of whom are eligible for legalization under various programs, including some currently on hold by court order. The second largest number belongs to Hondurans with about 20,000, also with about 8,000 eligible for legalization.

An estimated 18,000 undocumented Colombians live in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, according to the MPI interactive map, plus 11,000 undocumented Venezuelans — with about 15,000 total eligible for legalization from the two countries.

Overall, the report and the interactive map show, Florida is among the 14 states in the nation where 82 percent of the 11 million undocumented immigrants live. Estimates vary about how many undocumented immigrants live in Florida. They range from 730,000 to about one million.

Forty-one states plus the District of Columbia are each home to at least 20,000 undocumented immigrants, according to the MPI report.

It also says that 56 percent of all undocumented immigrants are from Mexico, followed by 15 percent from Central America, 14 percent from Asia, and then smaller percentages from other areas: South America, 6 percent; Europe, Canada and Oceania, 4 percent; Africa, 3 percent; and Caribbean, 2 percent.

The MPI report also looks at the number of undocumented immigrants who qualify for the chief immigration benefit available for unauthorized immigrants: the so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

DACA, as the benefit is called for its acronym, is a two-year renewable reprieve from deportation that President Barack Obama’s administration announced on June 15, 2012. It was offered to foreign nationals who were brought to the United States by undocumented parents when they were children.

To qualify for DACA, applicants must have entered the United States before the age of 16, resided here continuously since June 15, 2007, not been convicted of a major crime, be in school, or obtained a high school diploma or equivalent — among other things.

According to the MPI report, between 1.2 million and 1.6 million people are eligible for DACA — but only about 749,000 applications have been filed.

Reasons may include lack of knowledge about the program, fear of being stigmatized in their communities or being able to obtain legal status through other means, the report indicates.

For example, the report shows that the largest number of DACA applicants come from four countries: Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Argentina — in that order. But Guatemalans, whose circumstances match those of Salvadorans and Hondurans, apply at much lower rates, the report said.

“Guatemalans eligible for DACA,” the report says, “are far less likely to apply than their peers from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador.”

Part of the reason for the lower Guatemalan application rate may be that some Guatemalans do not understand Spanish or English since they come from areas where people largely speak indigenous languages, the report says.

Report authors base this conclusion on observations about a similarly low application rate for Chinese undocumented students.

MPI estimates that at least 23,000 Chinese immigrants are eligible to apply for DACA protection, but few have done so.

One of the reasons, as in the Guatemalans’ case, is the applicants’ lack of English proficiency.

Publicity about DACA in languages other than English or Spanish is limited, the report says.

“Latin American immigrants may also benefit from the widespread availability of Spanish language information and services promoting DACA,” the MPI report says. “Mexicans and Salvadorans may further benefit from their countries’ large, active consular networks, both of which have prioritized their nationals in the DACA enrollment process.”

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