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Unauthorized Immigration

Of the approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, 9.1 million are from Latin America and the Caribbean, with 7 million from Mexico alone.

Because of widespread poverty and inequality in these regions — and their proximity to the United States — most contemporary immigration to this country is from Latin America.

Latin America is the source of more than half of all immigrants to the United States and 80 percent of all unauthorized immigrants.

Causes of Unauthorized Immigration

Although the World Bank considers Latin America a middle-income region, this designation masks the region's highly unequal income distribution and the existence of sub-regions suffering severe poverty.

Some of Latin America's poorest countries – Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — are plagued by food insecurity and hunger. These countries are also major sources of unauthorized immigration.

According to UNICEF, 50 percent of Guatemala's children are chronically malnourished — the sixth-worst national ranking in the world. In the country's indigenous communities, malnutrition affects 80 percent of the children. After hundreds of Guatemalans died of hunger in the country's drought-ridden northeast in 2009, the government declared a state of emergency in order to secure international funds to respond to the crisis.

Mexico also suffers from an unequal distribution of income; almost half (47 percent) of the Mexican population lives in poverty. Eighteen percent live in extreme poverty, meaning families are unable to meet their basic food needs.

For more information, please contact:

Andrew Wainer
Senior Immigration Policy Analyst
(202) 688-1074

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