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Illegal immigration
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Illegal immigration

Illegal immigration is the migration into a state in violation of the immigration laws and sovereignty of that nation. Illegal immigration raises many political, economical and social issues and has become a source of major controversy in developed countries and the more successful developing countries.

In 2010, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that 25.5 to 32.1 million people (or 10% 15%) of the world's total 214 million international immigrants are illegal immigrants, though the IOM notes that it is difficult to make accurate estimates.


Other terms

  • illegal alien
  • illegal immigrant
  • clandestine workers[1]
  • sans papiers (French - "without papers")
  • irregular immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • people "hiding/living/staying/working/ in the shadows"
  • undocumented immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • unauthorized immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • paperless immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • immigrant "without immigration/legal status"
  • out of status immigrant/migrant/alien/worker/resident
  • boat people


Lack Of Immigration Law Enforcement, Illegal Immigration Amnesty and Birth Right Citizenship

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an organization that advocates for immigration reduction in the United States, cites a lack of enforcement or the inadequate enforcement of existing immigration and border laws by the Executive Branch of the U.S government as a primary cause of illegal immigration. In the U.S., 11-20 million illegal immigrants have very low chances of being deported and only a very small fraction of companies that hire them are ever penalized. In many states, illegal immigrants are released without deportation from jails and prisons after convictions for violent crimes. In most states, illegal immigrants attend schools and colleges, receive taxpayer assistance programs, and replace American workers and legal immigrants in jobs with infinitesimal chances of encountering immigration enforcement agents or policies. These low enforcement levels continue despite massive outcry from the American public and a large volume of certified scientific polling data showing super majorities of Americans in support of existing U.S. immigration laws. Many American activists and illegal immigration reduction groups have argued that the under-enforcement of U.S. immigration laws constitutes a Constitutional crisis since the will of the American public and actual legislation passed by Congress has little or no impact on policy undertaken by the Executive Branch under both Republican and Democratic administrations. In addition to lack of immigration law enforcement the potential for a future illegal immigration amnesty and birth right citizenship for future children are significant contributors to the decision of a person to illegally immigrate and to remain in a country as an illegal immigrant. The United States is one of only two high average income countries (the other country is Canada which offers it in limited circumstances) that still gives birthright citizenship for children born where both parents are illegal immigrants, tourists, visitors or other types of temporary residents (diplomats excepted). [2]

Economics and labor markets

Illegal immigration occurs principally from countries with lower socio-economic circumstances to countries with higher socio-economic circumstances, where illegal immigrants perceive greater economic opportunities and quality of life. This has typically been viewed as driving people from developing countries to developed countries but as economic conditions improve in a number of developing countries, illegal immigration to these more successful developing countries has also increased significantly.[3]

When potential illegal immigrants believe the probability and benefits of successfully migrating to the destination country are greater than the costs, illegal immigration will then be an attractive option. The benefits taken into account not only include expected improvements in pay and living conditions but also include expectations in relation to potential future immigration amnesty[4], where illegal immigration is given a path to naturalization or citizenship and also the rights to citizenship of future children are a consideration.[2] The costs may include restrictions on living as an illegal immigrant in the destination country, leaving family and ways of life behind, and the probability of being detained and resulting sanctions.[5] Proposed economic models of illegal immigration include varying considerations and degrees of complexity.

Neoclassical model

The neoclassical economic model looks only at the probability of success in immigrating and finding employment, and the increase in real income an illegal immigrant can expect. This explanation would account for the economies of the two states, including how much of a "pull" the destination country has in terms of better-paying jobs and improvements in quality of life. It also describes a "push" that comes from negative conditions in the home country like lack of employment or economic mobility.

Neoclassical theory posits that factors such as geographic proximity, border enforcement, probability and consequences of arrest, ease of illegal employment, and chances of future legalization govern the likelihood of "successful" illegal immigration.[6] This model also assumes that illegal workers tend to add to, and compete with, the receiving nation's pool of unskilled laborers. Illegal workers in this model find employment by accepting lower wages than native-born workers, sometimes below the minimum wage and "off-the-books". Economist George Borjas supports aspects of this model, calculating that real wages of US workers without a high school degree declined by 9% from 1980 2000 due to competition from illegal immigrant workers.[7]

Large scale economic evidence supports neoclassical theory, as may be seen in the long-term correlation of relative wages/unemployment and illegal immigration from Mexico to the US. However, immigration scholars such as Gordon Hanson and Douglas Massey have criticized the model for being oversimplified and not accounting for contradictory evidence, such as low net illegal immigration from Mexico to the US before the 1980s despite significant economic disparity.[6] Numerous refinements have been suggested to account for other factors, as seen below.

Trade liberalization

In recent years, developing states are pursuing the benefits of globalization by joining decline to liberalize trade. But rapid opening of domestic markets may lead to displacement of large numbers of agricultural or unskilled workers, who are more likely to seek employment and a higher quality of life by illegal emigration. This is a frequently cited argument to explain how the North American Free Trade Association may have impoverished Mexican farmers who were unable to compete with the higher productivity of US subsidized agriculture, especially for corn. NAFTA may have also unexpectedly raised educational requirements for industrial jobs in Mexico, since the new maquiladoras produced export products requiring skills and education that many unskilled workers did not have.[8]

Structural demand in developed states

Douglas Massey argues that a bifurcating labor market in developed nations creates a structural demand for unskilled immigrant labor to fill undesirable jobs that native-born citizens do not seek, regardless of wages.[9] He postulates that postindustrial economies have a widening gap between well-paying, white-collar jobs that require ever higher levels of education ("human capital"), for which native-born citizens and legal immigrants can qualify, and bottom-tier jobs that are stigmatized and require no education. These "underclass" jobs include harvesting crops, unskilled labor in landscaping and construction, house-cleaning, and maid and busboy work in hotels and restaurants, all of which have a disproportionate number of illegal workers.

Since the decline of middle-class blue-collar jobs in manufacturing and industry, younger native-born generations have acquired higher education. The majority of new blue-collar jobs qualify as Massey's "underclass" work, and suffer from unreliability, subservient roles, and, critically, a lack of potential for advancement. Entry-level white-collar and service jobs offer advancement opportunities for native-born and legal immigrant workers.

In a developed country like the US, only 12% of the labor force has less than a high school education. Illegal immigrants have much lower levels of education (about 70% of illegal workers in the US from Mexico lack a high school degree).[6] Even "underclass" jobs have much higher relative wages than those in home countries. Since illegal immigrants often anticipate working only temporarily in the destination country, the lack of opportunity for advancement is less of a problem. Evidence for this can be seen in one Pew Hispanic Center poll of over 3,000 illegal immigrants from Mexico in the US, which found that 79% would voluntarily join a temporary worker program that allowed them to work legally for several years but then required them to leave.[10]

The structural demand theory posits that willingness to work undesirable jobs is what gives illegal immigrants their employment.[12] Structural demand theory argues that cases like this show that there is no direct competition between unskilled illegal immigrants and native-born workers. This is the concept that illegal immigrants "take jobs that no one else wants". Massey argues that this has certain implications for policy, as it may refute claims that illegal immigrants are "lowering wages" or stealing jobs from native-born workers.[9]


While economic models do look at relative wealth and income between home and destination countries, they do not necessarily imply that illegal migrants are always impoverished by standards of the home country. The poorest classes in a developing country may lack the resources needed to mount an attempt to cross illegally, or the connections to friends or family already in the destination country. Studies from the Pew Hispanic Center have shown that the education and wage levels of illegal Mexican immigrants in the US are around the median for Mexico, and that having family who have emigrated or being from a community with many emigrants is a much better predictor of one's choice to emigrate.[10]

Other examples do show that increases in poverty, especially when associated with immediate crises, can increase the likelihood of illegal migration. The 1994 economic crisis in Mexico, subsequent to the start of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was associated with widespread poverty and a lower valuation for the peso relative to the dollar.[8] It also marked the start of a massive swell in Mexican emigration, in which net illegal migration to the US increased every year from the mid-1990s until the mid 2000s.

There are also examples where natural disasters and overpopulation can amplify poverty-driven migration flows.[13]


Population growth that exceeds the carrying capacity of an area or environment results in overpopulation.[14] Spikes in human population can cause problems such as pollution, water crisis,[15][16] and poverty.[17][18] World population has grown from 1.6 billion in 1900 to an estimated 7 billion today. In Mexico alone, population has grown from 13.6 million in 1900 to 107 million in 2007.[19] Virginia Abernethy notes that immigration is a road that provides a "relief valve" to over population that stops a population from addressing the consequences of its over population and that exports this over population to another location or country.[20]

In 2000, the United Nations estimated that the world's population was growing at the rate of 1.14% (or about 75 million people) per year. According to data from the CIA's World Factbook, the world human population currently increases by 145 every minute.[21] The United States Census Bureau issued a revised forecast for world population that increased its projection for the year 2050 to above 9.4 billion people, up from 9.1 billion people. We are adding a billion more every 12 years. Almost all growth will take place in the less developed regions.[22]

Family reunification

Some illegal immigrants seek to live with loved ones, such as a spouse or other family members.[23][24][25] Family reunification visas may be applied for by legal residents or naturalized citizens to bring their family members into a destination state legally, but these visas may be limited in number and subject to yearly quotas. This may force their family members to enter illegally to reunify. From studying Mexican migration patterns, Douglas Massey finds that the likelihood of a Mexican national to emigrate illegally to the US increases dramatically if they have one or more family members already residing in the United States, legally or illegally.[9]

Due to inability to marry, same-sex couples in which one member has an expiring visa may face an "unpalatable choice between leaving and living with the person they love in violation of U.S. immigration laws".[26]

Wars and asylum

Unauthorized immigration may be prompted by the desire to escape civil war or repression in the country of origin. Non-economic push factors include persecution (religious and otherwise), frequent abuse, bullying, oppression, and genocide, and risks to civilians during war. Political motives traditionally motivate refugee flows to escape dictatorship for instance.

The status of "unauthorized immigrant" may coincide with or be replaced by the status of "asylum seeker" for emigrants who have escaped a war or repression and have unlawfully crossed into another state. If they are recognized as "legitimate" asylees by the destination state, they will then gain status. However, there may be numerous potential asylees in a destination state who are unwilling to apply or have been denied asylum status, and hence are categorized as "unathorized immigrants" and may be subject to punishment or deportation. However, Article 31 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees prohibits the Contracting States from imposing penalties on refugees for their illegal enter or presence, who come directly from a territory where their life or freedom are threatened. There are numerous cases of mass emigration from poor or war-stricken states. These include examples from Africa[27], Colombia, and El Salvador.

After decades of armed conflict, roughly one of every 10 Colombians now lives abroad.[28] For example, Colombians emigrating to Spain have "grown exponentially, from a little over 7,000 in 1993 to more than 80,000 in 2002 and 244,000 in 2003."[29] Also, figures from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security indicate that Colombia is the fourth-leading source country of unauthorized immigration to the United States. According to its estimates, the number of unauthorized Colombian residents in the United States almost tripled from 51,000 in 1990 to 141,000 in 2000.[30] According to the US Census Bureau, the number of authorized Colombian immigrants in the United States in 2000 was 801,363.[31] Census data are important because, as the Department of Homeland Security states, [U.S.] "census data are more complete and reliable [than INS's data] because of the national scope of the data collection, the vastly larger data sample, and the extensive preparation and follow-up activities involved in conducting the decennial census."[30] El Salvador is another country which experienced substantial emigration as a result of civil war and repression. The largest per-capita source of immigrants to the United States comes from El Salvador. Up to a third of the world's Salvadoran-born population lives outside the country, mostly in the United States.


The problems with illegal immigration can be divided into dangers faced by illegal immigrants and problems faced by the host or receiving country. Illegal immigrants may expose themselves and citizens of the nations they encroach upon to dangers while engaged in illegal entry into another country. Aside from the possibility that they may be intercepted and deported, some considerably more dangerous outcomes have been known to result from their activity. As an example, unauthorized immigrants may be trafficked for exploitation including sexual exploitation and some illegal immigrants are involved in broader criminal activity.


After the end of the legal international slave trade by the European nations and the United States in the early 19th century, the illegal importation of slaves has continued, albeit at much reduced levels. Although not as common as in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, some women are undoubtedly smuggled into the United States and Canada.[32]

People have been kidnapped or tricked into slavery to work as laborers, for example in factories. Those trafficked in this manner often face additional barriers to escaping slavery, since their status as illegal immigrants makes it difficult for them to gain access to help or services. For example Burmese women trafficked into Thailand and forced to work in factories or as prostitutes may not speak the language and may be vulnerable to abuse by police due to their illegal immigrant status.[33]


Some people forced into sexual slavery face challenges of charges of illegal immigration.[34]

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Western Europe is being confronted with a serious problem related to the sexual exploitation of illegal immigrants (especially from Eastern Europe), for the purpose of prostitution.[35]


Each year there are several hundred illegal Immigrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border.[36] Death by exposure occurs in the deserts of Southwestern United States during the hot summer season.[37]


Border crossing

Border control at sea by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Border control at sea by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
HMC Vigilant, one of several customs cutters of the UKBA, capable of speeds up to 26 knots departing Portsmouth Naval Base.
HMC Vigilant, one of several customs cutters of the UKBA, capable of speeds up to 26 knots departing Portsmouth Naval Base.
Immigrants from nations that do not have automatic visa agreements, or who would not otherwise qualify for a visa, often cross the borders illegally in some areas like the United States Mexico border, the Mona Channel between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, the Strait of Gibraltar, Fuerteventura, and the Strait of Otranto. Because these methods are illegal, they are often dangerous. Would-be immigrants have been known to suffocate in shipping containers,[38] boxcars,[39] and trucks,[40] sink in shipwrecks caused by unseaworthy vessels, die of dehydration[41] or exposure during long walks without water. An official estimate puts the number of people who died in illegal crossings across the U.S.-Mexican border between 1998 and 2004 at 1,954 (see immigrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border).

Human smuggling is the practice of intermediaries aiding illegal immigrants in crossing over international borders in financial gain, often in large groups. Human smuggling differs from, but is sometimes associated with, human trafficking. A human smuggler will facilitate illegal entry into a country for a fee, but on arrival at their destination, the smuggled person is usually free. Trafficking involves a process of using physical force, fraud, or deception to obtain and transport people.

Types of notorious human smugglers include Snakehead gangs present in mainland China (especially in Fujian) that smuggle laborers into Pacific Rim nations (making Chinatowns frequent centers of illegal immigration) and "coyotes", who smuggle illegal immigrants to the Southwestern United States and have been known to abuse or even kill their passengers.[42] Sometimes immigrants are abandoned by their human traffickers if there are difficulties, often dying in the process. Others may be victims of intentional killing.

Overstaying a visa

Many illegal immigrants are migrants who originally arrive in a country lawfully but overstay their authorized residence (overstaying a visa).[43][44] For example, most of the estimated 200,000 illegal immigrants in Canada (perhaps as high as 500,000) are refugee claimants whose refugee applications were rejected but who have not yet been expelled from the country.[45]

A related way of becoming an unathorized immigrant is through bureaucratic means. For example, persons can be allowed to remain in a country or be protected from expulsion because they need special pension for a medical condition, deep love for a native, or even to avoid being tried for a crime in their native country, without being able to regularize their situation and obtain a work and/or residency permit, let alone naturalization. Hence, categories of people being neither "unauthorized" immigrants nor local citizens are created, living in a judicial "no man's land".

Another example is formed by children of foreigners born in countries observing jus soli ("right of territory"), such as was the case in France until 1994 and in Ireland until 2005.[46] In these countries, it was possible to obtain French or Irish nationality (respectively) solely by being born in France before 1994 or in Ireland before 2005[46] (respectively). At present, a French born child of foreign parents does not automatically obtain French nationality until residency duration conditions are met. Since 1 January 2005, a child born in Ireland does not automatically acquire Irish nationality unless certain conditions are met.[46]

Legal and political status

See also: Illegal immigration to the United States, Immigration to the United States, Australian immigration, Immigration to the United Kingdom, Immigration to Canada, Illegal immigration to Pakistan, Illegal immigrants in Malaysia, Immigration to Chile, Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

Many countries have had or currently have laws restricting immigration for economic or nationalistic political reasons. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 concerning counter-terrorism, enacted in October 2001, requested of UN member states to restrict immigration laws. Whether a person is permitted to stay in a country legally may be decided by quotas or point systems or may be based on considerations such as family ties (marriage, elderly mother, etc.). Exceptions relative to political refugees or to sick people are also common. Immigrants who do not participate in these legal proceedings or who are denied permission under them and still enter or stay in the country are illegal immigrants, as well as people born on national territory (henceforth not "immigrants") but who have not obtained nationality of their birthplace and have no legal title of residency.[47]

Most countries have laws requiring workers to have proper documentation, often intended to prevent or minimize the employment of unauthorized immigrants. However the penalties against employers are often small and the acceptable identification requirements vague and ill-defined as well as being seldom checked or enforced, making it easy for employers to hire unauthorized labor. Unauthorized immigrants are especially popular with many employers because they can pay less than the legal minimum wage or have unsafe working conditions, secure in the knowledge that few unauthorized workers will report the abuse to the authorities. Often the minimum wages in one country can be several times the prevailing wage in the unauthorized immigrant's country, making even these jobs attractive to the unauthorized worker.

In response to the outcry following popular knowledge of the Holocaust, the newly-established United Nations held an international conference on refugees, where it was decided that refugees (legally defined to be people who are persecuted in their original country and then enter another country seeking safety) should be exempted from immigration laws.[48] It is, however, up to the countries involved to decide if a particular immigrant is a refugee or not, and hence whether they are subject to the immigration controls.

The right to freedom of movement of an individual within national borders is often contained within the constitution or in a country's human rights legislation but these rights are restricted to citizens and exclude all others. Some argue that the freedom of movement both within and between countries is a basic human right and that nationalism and immigration policies of state governments violate this human right that those same governments recognize within their own borders. According to the article 13 on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, fundamental human rights are violated when citizens are forbidden to leave their country. However, immigrants are not assured the right to enter a country, that right is given at the host country's discretion.[citation]

Since illegal immigrants without proper legal status have no valid identification documents such as identity cards, they may have reduced or no access to public health systems, proper housing, education and banks. This lack of access may result in the creation or expansion of illegal underground forgery to provide this documentation.[49]

When the authorities are overwhelmed in their efforts to stop "illegal" immigration, they have historically provided amnesty. Amnesties waive the "subject to deportation" clause associated with illegal aliens.

By country or region


In 2007 around 44,000 Congolese were forced to leave Angola.[50] Since 2004, more than 400,000 illegal immigrants, almost all from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have been expelled from Angola.[51][52]


Official government sources put the number of visa overstayers in Australia at approximately 50,000. This has been the official number of illegal immigrants for about 25 years and is considered to be low. Other sources have placed it at up to 100,000, but no detailed study has been completed to quantify this number, which could be significantly higher.


Immigration in Bhutan by Nepalese settlers (Lhotshampa) began slowly towards the end of the 19th century. The government passed the Bhutanese Citizenship Act 1985 to clarify and try to enforce the Bhutanese Citizenship Act 1958 to control the flood of illegal immigration. Those individuals who could not provide proof of residency prior to 1958 were adjudged to be illegal immigrants. In 1991 and 1992, Bhutan expelled roughly 139,110 ethnic Nepalis, most of whom have been living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal ever since. The United States has offered to resettle 60,000 of the 107,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin now living in U.N. refugee camps in Nepal. The Bhutanese government, even today, has not been able to sort the problem of giving citizenship to those people who are married to Bhutanese, even though they have been in the country for 40 years.[53]


Aerial view of S o Paulo, where most illegal immigrants in Brazil live. Brazil has long been part of international migration routes. In 2009, the government estimated the number of undocumented immigrants at about 200,000 people; a Catholic charity working with immigrants said there were 600,000 unauthorized immigrants (75,000 of which from Bolivia). That same year, the Brazilian Parliament approved an amnesty, opening a six-month window for all foreigners to seek legalization irrespective of their previous standing before the law. Brazil had last legalized all immigrants in 1998; bilateral deals, one of which promoted the legalization of all reciprocal immigrants with Bolivia to date, signed in 2005, are also common.[54]

Unauthorized immigrants in Brazil enjoy the same legal privileges as native Brazilians regarding access to social services such as public education and the Brazilian public healthcare system.[54] Most unauthorized immigrants in Brazil come from Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, China (mainly from Fujian), North Korea and sub-Saharan Africa. A Federal Police operation investigated Chinese immigrants who traveled through six countries before arriving in S o Paulo to work under substandard conditions in the textile industry.[55]

After signing the 2009 amnesty bill into law, President Lula said, in a speech, that "repression and intolerance against immigrants will not solve the problems caused by the economic crisis", thereby also harshly criticizing the "policy of discrimination and prejudice" against immigrants in developed nations.

An October 2009 piece from O Globo, quoting a UNDP study, estimates the number of unauthorized immigrants at 0.7 million,[56] and points out to a recent wave of xenophobia among the general populace.[57]


There is no credible information available on unathorized immigration in Canada. Estimates range between 35,000 and 120,000 unauthorized immigrants in Canada.[58] James Bissett, a former head of the Canadian Immigration Service, has suggested that the lack of any credible refugee screening process, combined with a high likelihood of ignoring any deportation orders, has resulted in tens of thousands of outstanding warrants for the arrest of rejected refugee claimants, with little attempt at enforcement.[59] Refugee claimants in Canada do not have to attempt re-entry to learn the status of their claim. A 2008 report by the Auditor General Sheila Fraser stated that Canada has lost track of as many as 41,000 illegal immigrants.[60][61] This number was predicted to increase drastically with the expiration of temporary employer work permits issued in 2007 and 2008, which were not renewed in many cases because of the shortage of work due to the recession.[62]


Chile has recently become a new pole of attraction for unathorized immigrants, mostly from neighboring Peru and Bolivia but also Ecuador, Paraguay, Colombia and, Haiti. According to the 2002 national census, Chile's foreign-born foreign population has increased by 75% since 1992.[63]

People's Republic of China

People's Republic of China is building a security barrier along its border with North Korea to prevent the defectors or refugees from North Korea.[64] Also, many immigrants from Mongolia have tried to make it to China. There might be as many as 100,000 Africans in Guangzhou, mostly illegal overstayers.[65] To encourage people to report foreigners living illegally in China, the police is giving a 100 yuan reward to whistleblowers whose information successfully leads to an expulsion.[66]

Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic, an island nation shared with Haiti, has many illegal immigrants coming from Haiti. Over a million illegal Haitian immigrants on Dominican soil (over 10% of the total population). The loyalty of foreign nationals and illegals can be questionable, especially when they do not consider the adopted country as "their home." (See statement in "Victims" section)

European Union

The European Union is developing a common system for immigration and asylum and a single external border control strategy.

Many reports from local Greek islands, near the Turkish coast indicate that Turks equip migrants with boats and knives and tell them to cut the boat when they reach Greek waters. Greek authorities are then forced to deal with the influx of thousands of illegal immigrants under EU rules. Greek police are unable to work with their counterparts in Turkey because the Turkish army is responsible for their border.[67] Recently, 14 illegal migrants drowned because of Turkish traffickers who sent them into the sea, telling them to slice the dinghies once they reach Greek waters.[68] The Turkish newspaper H rriyet published stories once in July 2004 and a second time in May 2006 that Hellenic Coast Guard ships were caught on film cruising as near as a few hundred meters off the Turkish coast and abandoning clandestine immigrants to the sea.

This practice allegedly resulted in the drowning of six people between Chios and Karaburun Peninsula on 26 September 2006 while three others disappeared and 31 were saved by Turkish gendarmes and fishermen.[69] However, there are also numerous non-Turkish claims and testimonies that Turkish authorities and/or citizens lead immigrants through the sea, often resulting to the abandonment and sometimes drowning of said immigrants.

A tough new EU immigration law detaining illegal immigrants for up to 18 months before deportation has triggered outrage across Latin America, with Venezuelan President Hugo Ch vez threatening to cut off oil exports to Europe.[70][71]

United Kingdom

There are between 550,000 and 950,000 illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom, with a figure of 750,000 as the most likely number.[72] The United Kingdom is a difficult country to reach as it is mostly located on one island and part of another, but traffickers in Calais, France have tried to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK. Many of the illegal immigrants come from Africa and Asia. There are also many from Eastern Europe and Latin America who are in the UK illegally, having overstayed their visas.[73][74]


In France, helping an unathorized immigrant (providing shelter, for example) is prohibited by a law passed on December 27, 1994.[75] The law was heavily criticized by non-governmental organizations such as Cimade and GISTI, left-wing political parties such as the Greens and the French Communist Party, and trade-unions such as the magistrates' Syndicat de la magistrature.

The linguistic differentiations between anglophone and francophone rhetoric is important when considering the topic of French illegal immigration. In French, the term "irr guli re" is used (literally irregular ), whereas in English, the term more often used is "illegal." Often, instead of referring to someone's irregular immigrant status, the colloquial term used is "sans papiers" (literally "without papers"), referring to the fact that irregular immigrants to not possess papers from the French government allowing them to stay in France.[76][77]

It is important to distinguish illegal immigrants from other forms of immigrants and residents in France. Some immigrants to France are asylum-seekers, and once granted asylum, they are no longer illegal/irregular, though they are immigrants. There are also children who are born to immigrants in France, who are not immigrants themselves, but they are still considered foreigners by the French national government. One does not merely need to be a foreign immigrant in order to be a foreigner in France.[78]

French citizenship is based in the idea of political unity; therefore, French citizenship may be more accessible than other EU countries, such as Germany. However, there is also the strong feeling among French citizens that those non-native people who gain French citizenship should also conform to the cultural aspects of French life.[79]

French law prohibits anyone from assisting or trying to assist "the entry, movement, or irregular stay of a foreigner in France." One found guilty of these acts can be imprisoned for up to five years and fined 30,000. There are also quotas for the number of arrests that should be made in such cases: 5,000 arrests for 2009 and 5,500 arrests for 2011.[80]

France has an Immigration Ministry (L'immigration, l'int gration, l'asile et le d veloppement solidaire) which begun functioning in 2007 under President Sarkozy. The goal of these quotas and laws put forth by the government is to combat smugglers who profit financially from moving immigrants into, through, and out of France, according to the Immigration Minister, Eric Besson.[81][82]

Calais is an important site when considering illegal immigrants in France. This is where many move go to try to cross the English Channel towards Great Britain, the goal for many of them, as it is believed to be easier to gain asylum or refugee status there.[83] In Calais, when trying to pass through customs towards Great Britain, truck drivers can be fined up to 2,500 if illegal immigrants are found on board their truck when it is searched.[84]

There is an area of Calais known as "the Jungle", which houses many of the ones who are waiting to get into Great Britain. There was a police raid here in September 2009, which was seen as a political move by authorities to show their efforts in public to control illegal immigration.[85]

Many non-governmental organizations, such as Secours Catholique and the Red Cross are involved in the situation as well. hese NGOs provide food, showers, and shelter to sans papiers who gather waiting to cross the Channel. In 2002, then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy closed a Red Cross shelter in the Calais suburb of Sangette that housed thousands of sans papiers in an effort to discourage them from trying to cross the border. These immigrants simply moved to other parts of the Calais region.[86]

Philippe Lefilleul, a member of Secours Cotholique, stated that aid workers from these NGOs do not condone the illegal immigration of people to France, but they feel that it is their "duty as fellow human beings and as Christians" to help them.[87]

The French film "Welcome" is a portrayal of a sans papiers young man trying to cross the English Channel from Calais and his interactions with a swimming instructor in Calais. It was a controversial film when it was released because it moves a very sensitive political and social topic into a very important French cultural venu: film. Other French films that address the topic of French immigration, especially illegal immigration, are "Entre les murs" and "La Haine", which address cultural and political situations surrounding immigration in Parisian suburbs and the country at large.[88]


ABVP against Bangladeshi illegals
ABVP against Bangladeshi illegals

It is estimated that several million illegal immigrants live in India. Precise figures are not available, but the numbers run from anywhere from a few hundred thousand to 20 million. Especially in Eastern India, these are mainly economic migrants from Bangladesh.

India is constructing barriers on its eastern borders to combat the surge of migrants. The Indo-Bangladeshi barrier is 4,000 km (2,500 mi) long. Presently, India is constructing a fence along the border to restrict illegal traffic from Bangladesh.[89] This obstruction will virtually isolate Bangladesh from India. The barrier's plan is based on the designs of the Israeli West Bank barrier and will be 3.6 m (11.8 ft) high. The stated aim of the fence is to stop infiltration of terrorists, prevent smuggling, and end illegal immigration from Bangladesh.[90][91]


Since late April 2007, the Iranian government has forcibly deported back to Afghanistan mostly unregistered (and some registered) Afghans living and working in Iran at a rate between 250,000 and 300,000 per year. The forceful evictions of the refugees, who lived in Iran and Pakistan for nearly three decades, are part of the two countries' larger plans to repatriate all Afghan refugees within a few years. Iran says that it will send 1,000,000 by next March, and Pakistan announced that all 2,400,000 Afghan refugees, most living in camps, must return home by 2009. Experts say it will be "disastrous" for Afghanistan.[92][93][94]


Libya is home to a large illegal Sub-Saharan African population which numbers as much as 2,000,000.[95] The mass expulsion plan to summarily deport all undocumented foreigners was announced by Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi in January 2008. "No resident without a legal visa will be excluded."[96][97]


There are an estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants in Malaysia.[98] In January 2009, Malaysia banned the hiring of foreign workers in factories, stores and restaurants to protect its citizens from mass unemployment amid the late 2000s recession.[99] An ethnic Indian Malaysian was recently sentenced to whipping and 10 months in prison for hiring six illegal immigrants at his restaurant. "I think that after this, Malaysian employers will be afraid to take in foreign workers (without work permits). They will think twice", said immigration department prosecutor Azlan Abdul Latiff. "This is the first case where an employer is being sentenced to caning", he said. Illegal immigrants also face caning before being deported.[100]


In the first six months of 2005 alone, more than 120,000 people from Central America have been deported to their countries of origin. This is a significantly higher rate than in 2002, when for the entire year, only 130,000 people were deported Another important group of people are those of Han Chinese origin, who pay about $5,500 to smugglers to be taken to Mexico from Hong Kong. It is estimated that 2.4% of rejections for work permits in Mexico correspond to Chinese citizens

Many women from Eastern Europe, Asia, and Central and South America are also offered jobs at table dance establishments in large cities throughout the country causing the National Institute of Migration (INM) in Mexico to raid strip clubs and deport foreigners who work without the proper documentation In 2004, the INM deported 188,000 people at a cost of US$10 million Illegal immigration of Cubans through Canc n tripled from 2004 to 2006.

In September 2007, Mexican President Calder n harshly criticized the United States government for the crackdown on illegal immigrants, saying it has led to the persecution of immigrant workers without visas. "I have said that Mexico does not stop at its border, that wherever there is a Mexican, there is Mexico", he said.[101]

In October 2008, Mexico tightened its immigration rules and agreed to deport Cubans who use the country as an entry point to the US. It also criticized US policy that generally allows Cubans who reach US territory to stay. Cuban Foreign Minister said the Cuban-Mexican agreement would lead to "the immense majority of Cubans being repatriated."[102]


In 2008, Nepal's Maoist-led government has initiated a major crackdown against Tibetan exiles with the aim to deport to China all Tibetans living illegally in the country. Tibetans started pouring in Nepal after a failed anti-Chinese uprising in Tibet in 1959.[103]



Russia experiences a constant flow of immigration. On average, 200,000 legal immigrants enter the country every year; about half are ethnic Russians from other republics of the former Soviet Union. In addition, there are an estimated 10 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.[104] There has been a significant influx of ethnic Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Tajiks, and Uzbeks into big Russian cities in recent years, which has been viewed very unfavorably by many citizens and contributed to nationalist sentiments.[105][106][107]

Many immigrant ethnic groups have much higher birth rates than native Russians, further shifting the balance. Some Chinese flee the overpopulation and birth control regulations of their home country and settle in the Far East and in southern Siberia. Russia's main Pacific port and naval base of Vladivostok, once closed to foreigners, today is bristling with Chinese markets, restaurants and trade houses.[108] This has been occurring a lot since the Soviet collapse.

Illegal border crossing is considered a crime, and captured illegal border crossers have been sentenced to a prison term. For example, Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported in October 2008 the case of a North Korean who was detained after illegally crossing the Amur River from China. Considered by Russian authorities an "economic migrant", he was sentenced to 6 months in prison and was to be deported to the country of his nationality after serving his sentence, even though he may now risk an even heavier penalty there. That was just one of the 26 cases year-to-date of illegal entrants, of various nationalities, receiving criminal punishment in Amur Oblast.[109]

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia started construction of a separation barrier between its territory and Yemen to prevent the unauthorized movement of people and goods into and out of the kingdom. See Saudi-Yemen barrier.

In 2006, Saudi Arabia proposed plans for the construction of a security fence along the entire length of its 560-mile (900 km) desert border with Iraq in a multimillion-pound project to secure the kingdom's borders in order to improve internal security, control illegal immigration, and bolster its defences against external threats.[110]

South Africa

South Africa is home to an estimated five million illegal immigrants, including some three million Zimbabweans.[111][112][113] Attacks on foreign nationals increased markedly in late 2007 and it is believed that there have been at least a dozen attacks since the start of 2008. The 2008 South Africa riots atarted on May 11, 2008 against illegal immigrants, who are accused of increasing the amoount of crime and unemployment.[114][115] see (Zimbabwean diaspora)


Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, there are more refugees from Iraq . The United Nations estimates that nearly 2,200,000 Iraqis have fled the country since 2003,[116] with nearly 100,000 fleeing to Syria and Jordan each month.[117][118] Most ventured to Jordan and Syria, creating demographic shifts that have worried both governments. Refugees are mired in poverty as they are generally barred from working in their host countries.[119][120]

Syrian authorities worried that the new influx of refugees would limit the country's resources. Sources like oil, heat, water and electricity were said to be becoming scarcer as demand were rising.[121] On October 1, 2007, news agencies reported that Syria reimposed restrictions on Iraqi refugees, as stated by a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Under Syria's new rules, only Iraqi merchants, businessmen and university professors with visas acquired from Syrian embassies may enter Syria.[122][123][124]


Turkey receives many economic migrants from nearby countries such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, but also from North Caucasus, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.[125][126] The Iraq War is thought to have increased the flow of illegal immigration into Turkey, and the global parties directly involved in the conflict have been accused of extending a less-helping hand than Turkey itself to resolve the precarious situation of immigrants stranded in passage.[127]

United States

Between 7 million and 20 million illegal immigrants are estimated to be living in the United States but the nature of illegal immigration makes the exact number be unknown.[128] Estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center show the number of illegal immigrants has declined to 11.1 million in March 2009 from a peak of 12 million in March 2007.[129] The majority of the illegal immigrants are from Mexico.[130] Illegal immigration has been a longstanding issue in the United States, creating immense controversy. Harvard University economist George J. Borjas explains that the controversy centers around the "huge redistribution [of wealth] away from [unskilled U.S. Citizen] workers to [American employers] who use illegal immigrants."[131]

In 2007, President George W. Bush called for Congress to endorse his guest worker proposal, stating that illegal immigrants took jobs that Americans would not take.[131] The Pew Hispanic Center notes that while the number of legal immigrants (including LPRs, refugees, and asylum seekers) arriving has not varied substantially since the 1980s, the number of illegal immigrants has increased dramatically and, since the mid 1990s, has surpassed the number of legal immigrants.[132] Penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants range from $2,000 $10,000 and up to six months' imprisonment.[133] However, penalties for employers go largely unenforced.

Political groups like Americans for Legal Immigration[134] have been formed to fight illegal immigration by demanding that the US enforce immigration laws and secure the borders. However, ALIPAC has also called for "safe departure" border checkpoints, free of criminal checks, for illegal activities.[135]

Puerto Rico

See Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico


There are hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions of Colombian immigrants living in Venezuela.[136] In 1995, Venezuela announced plans to conduct a census to locate and deport illegal immigrants.[137] An estimated 200,000 Colombians have fled the Colombian Civil War and sought safety in Venezuela. Most of them lack identity documents and this hampers their access to services, as well as to the labor market. The Venezuelan government has no specific policies on refugees.[138][139]

See also


Further reading

Christine Bischoff, Falk, Francesca and Sylvia Kafehsy: Images of Illegalized Immigration. Towards a Critical Iconology of Politics. Bielefeld: transcript. November 2010, ISBN 978-3-8376-1537-1

  • Barkan, Elliott R. "Return of the Nativists? California Public Opinion and Immigration in the 1980s and 1990s." Social Science History 2003 27(2): 229 283. in Project Muse.
  • Vanessa B. Beasley, ed. Who Belongs in America?: Presidents, Rhetoric, And Immigration (2006).
  • Borjas, G.J. "The economics of immigration", Journal of Economic Literature, v 32 (1994), pp. 1667 717.
  • Cull, Nicholas J. and Carrasco, Dav d, ed. Alambrista and the US-Mexico Border: Film, Music, and Stories of Undocumented Immigrants U. of New Mexico Press, 2004. 225 pp.
  • De La Torre, Miguel A., "Trails of Terror: Testimonies on the Current Immigration Debate", Orbis Books, 2009.
  • Thomas J. Espenshade; "Unauthorized Immigration to the United States" Annual Review of Sociology. Volume: 21. 1995. pp 195+.
  • Flores, William V. "New Citizens, New Rights: Undocumented Immigrants and Latino Cultural Citizenship" Latin American Perspectives 2003 30(2): 87 100.
  • Griswold, Daniel T.; "Willing Workers: Fixing the Problem of Illegal Mexican Migration to the United States", Trade Policy Analysis no. 19, October 15, 2002.
  • Kennedy, Marie and Chris Tilly, 'They Work Here, They Live Here, They Stay Here!': French immigrants strike for the right to work and win. Dollars & Sense, July/August 2008.
  • Nicholas Laham; Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Immigration Reform Praeger Publishers. 2000.
  • Lisa Maga a, Straddling the Border: Immigration Policy and the INS (2003)
  • Marquardt, Marie Friedmann, Timothy Steigenga, Philip Williams and Manuel Vasquez, Living "Illegal": The Human Face of Unauthorized Immigration, The New Press, 2011.
  • Mohl, Raymond A. "Latinization in the Heart of Dixie: Hispanics in Late-twentieth-century Alabama" Alabama Review 2002 55(4): 243 274. ISSN 0002-4341 9-4894945651.
  • Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (2004), 90952-15665.
  • Ngai, Mae M. "The Strange Career of the Illegal Alien: Immigration Restriction and Deportation Policy in the United States, 1921 1965" Law and History Review 2003 21(1): 69 107. ISSN 0738 2480 Fulltext in History Cooperative.
  • Mireille Rosello; "Representing Illegal Immigrants in France: From Clandestins to L'affaire Des Sans-Papiers De Saint-Bernard" Journal of European Studies, Vol. 28, 1998 959525126.
  • Dowell Myers (2007), Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America, Russell Sage Foundation, ISBN 978-0-87154-636-4.
  • Tolley, Brett "Dying to Get In" Documentary (2006) Undocumented Immigration Documentary.
  • Tranaes, T. and Zimmermann, K.F. (eds), Migrants, Work, and the Welfare State, Odense, University Press of Southern Denmark, (2004).
  • Venturini, A. Post-War Migration in Southern Europe. An Economic Approach Cambridge University Press (2004).
  • Zimmermann, K.F. (ed.), European Migration: What Do We Know? Oxford University Press, (2005).
  • Range, Peter R., Europe faces an immigrant tide National Geographic Magazine May 1993.

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