Nov 29, 2023 - News

Undocumented immigrants rose in Massachusetts under Obama, Trump

Data: Pew Research Center and Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Massachusetts saw a steady stream of undocumented residents put down roots in the 2010s, even during the Trump administration, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

Why it matters: The increase in undocumented residents, combined with an influx of refugees, asylum seekers and most recently migrants from across the globe, has strained state resources and could change the face of Massachusetts down the road.

Driving the news: Massachusetts gained an estimated 120,000 undocumented residents between 2010 and 2021, according to data from Pew and the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • Undocumented residents accounted for 4.3% of the population in 2021.

Of note: The data excluded 2020 numbers because of pandemic-related disruptions, and it doesn't include data from the past two years, when illegal southern border crossings reached historic levels.

The big picture: Geopolitical conflicts, climate change and more sophisticated smuggling networks are driving more migrants from nearly every region of the world to make dangerous journeys to the U.S. without permission, absent many legal options for entry, writes Axios' Russell Contreras.

Zoom in: Massachusetts' undocumented population dipped during former President Barack Obama's first term before climbing back up during Obama's second term and former President Donald Trump's time in office.

  • Massachusetts has adopted immigrant-friendly policies in recent years, including a law extending state-issued driver's licenses to undocumented residents and a law letting undocumented high school graduates obtain in-state tuition and state-funded financial aid.

Yes, but: The majority of migrants who have sought shelter in Massachusetts currently have some form of legal status, state officials and advocates say.

State of play: Immigration is expected to be a crucial issue in the upcoming 2024 presidential election thanks in part to a surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, which has led to blowback against the Biden administration from both sides and increasingly harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric.

  • Massachusetts has maxed out its family shelter system, in part due to an unprecedented influx of migrants seeking shelter.
  • The state has imposed a waitlist and tapped nonprofits to set up overflow shelters for waitlisted families, but in the absence of overflow sites, officials started using a state transportation building to shelter waitlisted families.
  • A state legislative proposal that mandated overflow shelters stalled earlier this month.

What's next: A divided, dysfunctional Congress will make it difficult for any sweeping immigration reforms to pass.

  • Still, both the House and the Senate are expected to at least try to link significant emergency border security funds with Ukraine aid after the Thanksgiving break.
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