It is not known exactly how many illegal immigrants are in America.

Ambiguity around the total number of illegal aliens here undermines efforts to stop the ongoing invasion of our state and nation. Subject matter specialists say those benefiting from the open border include the political left, moderate Republicans, the Mexican cartels, the Chamber of Commerce, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

If the true numbers were widely known, it would likely force public servants to secure the open border. The Huffines Liberty Foundation says Texas can help reveal the true size of the problem by requiring its government schools to report how many illegal aliens, or children of illegal aliens, are here.

Estimates Only

Multiple organizations of different political affiliations have published reports on how many illegal immigrants are in the United States. However, all of these are only estimates.

The Pew Research Center reported in November 2023 that there was an estimated “10.5 million in 2021.” In August 2023, Statista estimated that in 2018, 11.39 million lived here. In 2019, the left-wing Brookings Institution estimated a “range from 10.5 million to 12 million, or approximately 3.2%–3.6% of the population.” In June 2023, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimated “that approximately 16.8 million” lived here.

FAIR pointed out that this estimate was “significantly higher” than their January 2022 one of 15.5 million and was 2.3 million more than their estimate for the end of 2020. “The illegal alien population increased 16 percent nationwide during just the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency,” the organization outlined.

Wade Miller, Executive Director of Citizens for Renewing America, is dubious about the accuracy of estimates. “I’ve been seeing the number 10 to 12 million since the ‘90s, and we have millions of people coming across every year,” he told Texas Scorecard.

Regarding how many illegal immigrants are really in Texas, Selene Rodriguez of the Texas Public Policy Foundation said less is known. “There’s not even anywhere close to an accurate number of how many people are here illegally … from 2021 to today,” she told Texas Scorecard. “The last kind of semi-close number maybe is from pre-2021 … and it was about 7.1 million, I believe. Again, that’s a rough estimate.”

Left to Right: Wade Miller, Selene Rodriguez.

How these estimates are created is more art than science. The Brookings Institution says the first step is acquiring data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). This survey contacts more than 2 million households year to year. It asks individuals if they are American citizens and their place of birth. It doesn’t ask if one is here illegally. From that, a total of the “foreign-born” population is calculated, and from that number legal foreign residents and refugees are subtracted, using data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “By subtracting the number of people who we know for certain are here legally from the overall number of foreign-born in the ACS survey we can estimate the number of undocumented residents,” Brookings reported.

However, Brookings says that most of these estimates assume there is an “undercount” due to illegal immigrants not taking part in surveys. Organizations vary in how they calculate undercounts and adjust their estimates. “The Pew Research Center relies, in part, on survey and census data from Mexico. They estimate the undercount to be somewhere in the range of 5 to 15 percent, which is then added to the number of undocumented immigrants,” Brookings outlined. “DHS believes that the undercount is 10% and adjusts its estimates accordingly … Opponents of illegal immigration such as FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) argue that the undercount is in fact much bigger. To get to their estimates they analyze other data such as the percentage of migrants who failed to show up for their immigration hearings and those who have overstayed their visas.”

Rodriguez raised other concerns about the accuracy of post-2021 estimates. “All of those studies from like Migration Project and Pew Research, they all have a caveat … that says these numbers do not take into account the mass migration from February 2021 to today,” she said.

There is also the issue of illegal aliens not self-reporting. “A big thing that you have to take into account when you’re trying to estimate the ‘undocumented population,’ as you’ll see it said, is they don’t report a lot of things,” she said. “They don’t go to the hospital; if they’ve been here for a while they don’t report crime because of fear of deportation. A lot of them being in the country at all just goes wildly unreported, so you’re never going to get close enough to that number.”

Brookings agrees with Rodriguez that “ascertaining the size of the illegal population is difficult” due to illegal immigrants not always self-reporting their illegal status.

No Systems, No Checks

Why are there only estimates as opposed to a solid count? Miller says it is because public servants have not set up the systems necessary for that. “We need to reform our systems so that we know who’s coming in and who’s coming out, both at ports of entry and between ports of entry, so that we can get a reliable number,” he said.

Rodriguez said federal authorities are legitimizing illegal aliens disappearing into the nation by releasing them with what she calls a “notice to disappear.” “When they give you your notice to appear, you don’t have to give them an actual home address where you’ll be staying. You can now give them the address of the NGO or the hotel where the NGO put you up. There’s no follow-up as to where you go from there,” she said. This is a top concern of authorities not properly vetting these illegal border crossers.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose administration was known for high levels of orderly legal immigration, strongly condemned such failures in his book Right Here, Right Now. “Entering a country illegally is an inherent act of bad faith, no matter what its motivations. And failure to enforce immigration laws is a dereliction of any office holder’s basic duties,” he wrote.

Stephen Harper.

Rodriguez said that the Biden administration has been fiddling with federal reporting to further hide how big the problem is. “They have changed the reporting metrics for Customs and Border Protection, and the Department of Homeland Security, to where you don’t really get an idea,” she said. “The only metrics they report are how many people they’ve encountered, and a lot of times those encounters can be the same person multiple times.”

Miller also noted that many illegal aliens entering America do not have proper identification, so their legal status is not always known when they are processed in the criminal justice system. This makes it hard to quantify the number of illegal aliens who have committed crimes.

While that number may be hard to pin down, the Texas Department of Public Safety does have data that sheds some light on the issue of how many illegal aliens are arrested and convicted of crimes other than illegal border crossings. “According to DHS [Department of Homeland Security] status indicators, over 428,000 criminal aliens have been booked into local Texas jails between June 1, 2011, and January 31, 2024, of which over 299,000 were classified as illegal aliens by DHS,” DPS reports. “Between June 1, 2011, and January 31, 2024, these 299,000 illegal aliens were charged with more than 513,000 criminal offenses … DPS criminal history records reflect those criminal charges have thus far resulted in over 187,000 convictions.” These include 23,491 assault convictions, 468 homicide convictions, 3,059 sexual assault convictions, 3,411 sexual offense convictions, 329 kidnapping convictions, 9,679 theft convictions, 15,718 obstructing police convictions, and more.

“Those are already huge numbers,” Selene Rodriguez commented.

But DPS does offer a caution with this data. “These figures only count individuals who previously had an encounter with DHS that resulted in their fingerprints being entered into the DHS IDENT database,” they state. “Foreign nationals who enter the country illegally and avoid detection by DHS but are later arrested by local or state law enforcement for a state offense will not have a DHS response in regard to their lawful status and do not appear in these counts.” But DPS reports that DHS does actively adjudicate the immigration status of those in Texas’ prison system. From June 1, 2011 to January 31, 2024, 10,744 individuals in the state’s prison system “who were not previously identified through PEP” were identified as illegal aliens. Those charges, according to DPS criminal history data, “thus far” have resulted in more than 5,000 convictions. These include 607 sexual assault convictions, 282 sexual offense convictions, 290 robbery convictions, 743 assault convictions, 104 homicide convictions, and 408 obstructing police convictions.

What’s the Number?

How many illegal immigrants are in America? Wade Miller thinks it is probably between 35 and 50 million, probably in the 40 million range. “That doesn’t even include the children that they’ve been having. The total population … in the United States could actually be much higher than that number,” he said. “One of the reasons it’s difficult to know is because the left and some of the pro-illegal immigration right, or libertarians will argue that a lot of these people end up going back. That may be true, but it’s not at a rate enough to like keep the numbers steady there.”

Selene Rodriguez said that “it’s almost impossible” to figure out how many illegal immigrants are here currently, but gave a “wild guess” of more than 10 million in Texas and maybe 20 to 30 million in the United States. “There’s so many coming in that are completely unaccounted for.”

Estimates are vague, but clearly, the number of illegal border crossings has increased substantially. An October 2023 paper from Huffines Liberty Foundation (HLF) by former State Sen. Don Huffines and public policy specialist Bill Peacock, titled “Reducing Illegal Immigration and its Costs in Texas: Education,” reported that In Fiscal Year 2020, President Trump’s last full fiscal year, there were 458,088 encounters with illegal aliens at the border. That tripled in 2021 under President Biden. “In the last two years, encounters have increased fivefold over 2020,” Huffines and Peacock wrote.

Left to Right: Don Huffines, Bill Peacock.

Both found that vagueness on the size of the illegal immigrant population extends to the population of our state’s government education system too. They highlight that while “no one knows for sure how many illegal aliens are enrolled” in our state’s K-12 government schools, the estimate is “close to 500,000.” As at the federal level, public servants have not set up systems in our government school system to track this. “The reason for this is simple. Texas public schools and the state of Texas do not attempt to discover the actual number,” Huffines and Peacock wrote.

It wasn’t always this way. In HLF’s paper “The Cost of Illegal Immigration in Texas,” Huffines and Peacock wrote that in 1975, state lawmakers mandated that only children of American citizens or “legally admitted aliens” be allowed to attend government schools at no charge. A survey reported five years later, in 1980, 45 percent of the state’s government school districts with enrollments of 10,000 or higher did not admit illegal alien children at all. The Tyler Independent School District billed $1,000 for illegal aliens to attend.

This all changed when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated this state law in the 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision. “Because of federal constraints like Plyler, Texas makes little effort to find out the number of illegal aliens using Texas public services, much less how much those services cost,” Huffines and Peacock stated. Despite this, they found there are those still making an effort. “Some other states, particularly California, do a much better job of tracking these numbers.”

Returning to their October 2023 paper, Huffines and Peacock found that it is in the government school system where illegal immigration is having the most significant drain on the taxpayers. HLF covered this in their September 2023 paper as well. “The cost of educating illegal aliens is far higher than any other cost imposed by illegal immigration on Texans,” Huffines and Peacock wrote. “Over the next two years, Texans will spend nearly $160 billion to pay for their” government schools. That is about $80 billion a year. “A significant part of those costs is driven by illegal immigration,” they wrote. They reported the costs for government K-12 and higher education “likely exceed $7 billion a year,” and that federal courts have blocked attempts to recoup these costs from federal taxpayers.

Regarding higher education specifically, in their October 2023 paper, Huffines and Peacock wrote that “the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated that the in-state tuition benefit for illegal aliens costs Texans $459 million annually.” Non-residents used to pay more, until 2001 when state lawmakers allowed in-state tuition for illegal aliens in the state. Texans fund the costs of junior colleges, colleges, and universities for all students through their taxes.

Who Benefits From This?

Selene Rodriguez identified two groups that benefit from there not being an exact count of the illegal immigrant population. First are those with an open borders agenda, who don’t agree with the term illegal immigration. “Their point of view is migration, and it’s good no matter who you are or where you’re at. They want to just keep funneling and facilitating that into the country, and to keep it under wraps,” Rodriguez said.

The second group she identified is politicians, “especially” the Biden administration with its open borders policy. “Agencies have deliberately changed reporting metrics so that the public doesn’t get a good understanding. That has to be for corruption, maybe for votes, as we’ve all seen people talk about sanctuary states and cities that have these policies where everybody’s welcome,” she said.

When responding to the question of who benefits from the exact number of illegal immigrants in America being unknown, Wade Miller described a system composed of nonprofit groups, state actors, and criminals that provide “perverse incentives” from the start to the end of the journey to America. “They continue to work together to make sure that this process thrives.”

Miller said the political left wants this unsustainable situation to continue to change the cultural make-up of the electorate, which would benefit them. “That’s not like some right-wing wacko conspiracy theory, the left openly admits this,” he said. “This is a long-term play that takes decades and decades to come to fruition.” On the other side, Miller said moderate Republicans benefit because the Chamber of Commerce and the construction industry want excessive cheap labor. “That’s a huge pot of money, and being able to buy affordable homes politically is important,” Miller said. “[There are] all sorts of perverse incentives on the right to, on the one hand, say that they want to a secure border, but on the other hand want lots of an unrestrained flow of people across our border.”

According to Miller, who benefits from this situation depends on the phase of illegal immigration being discussed. “The cartels massively benefit, because they charge fees,” he said. But he points out that the countries the illegal immigrants travel through benefit as well. “They don’t want to have to provide the social services; they don’t have to deal with the crime. They just want these people to continue on their journey north and get out of their territory.”

Then there are the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that Miller said profit off of this invasion through federal taxpayer monies that come in the forms of grants and contracts. “These nonprofits make a lot of money housing people and providing shelter and services,” he said. “There’s a huge incentive for nonprofits to encourage the federal government to continue to allow this to happen.” One such nonprofit he mentioned was Catholic charities. “Catholic Charities are pretending to do all of this because this is what the Bible tells them to do. Which I’ve previously said is just an absurd argument … there’s nothing Christian about what they’re encouraging to occur.”

Miller believes that not knowing the exact number of illegal immigrants in our state and nation hides just how severe the problem is, which only helps protect the illegal practice and those who benefit. “I think that as long as people think that the number is not getting worse, there’s going to be less of a political will. I think that we need to be a little bit more honest about what’s going on,” he said.

Whom Does This Hurt?

“It hurts the people that right now are being trafficked and smuggled across the Southwest border because everything that crosses the border has to go through the Mexican cartels,” Selene Rodriguez said. “No matter what anybody tells you, they are in some way paying for their ability to cross into the United States.”

Wade Miller agrees. “Most of them are economic migrants. They come north, and they get robbed of all their possessions.”

Rodriguez also noted that this hurts the border communities, which is where she’s from. “You see a huge increase in people coming over. They don’t know the culture. They don’t know the language. They don’t know the rules or the laws, or what they should and should not be doing in that community,” she said. “They take all of the law enforcement and emergency services that are supposed to be for that community … it takes a lot of resources to be able to manage this type of mass illegal immigration, and these small communities, particularly along the border, don’t have the infrastructure to support that.” She noted how Operation Lone Star is drawing DPS officers and National Guardsmen away from their own local communities to operate on the border, causing a drain on resources elsewhere.

Rodriguez also said that illegal immigration is causing a rise in crime, and “not just in the border communities anymore.” A Heritage Foundation’s 2023 report by Hannah Davis concurs. “A 2021 Department of Justice report revealed that 64% of federal arrests in 2018 involved noncitizens, despite them comprising only 7% of the population at that time,” Davis stated. “The true extent of crimes committed by illegal aliens remains unknown because there are also over 1.5 million unaccounted for ‘gotaways’ since Biden’s term began.”

Davis also noted how those with known criminal histories are being allowed in. “In 2023 alone, Border Patrol agents have encountered thousands of illegal aliens with prior criminal convictions, including assault, rape, and murder.”

Illegal aliens with criminal histories and those who commit crimes within our borders pose a threat to the safety and security of American communities. Cities with high crime rates, particularly sanctuary cities, witness the immediate impact of this situation. If left unaddressed, this issue will eventually affect all states, effectively turning every state into a border state.

In a January 2024 commentary, Rodriguez discussed how a city like Chicago, Illinois has become a border city, despite being deep in the American heartland. “Among the more than 21,000 migrants the sanctuary city has taken in, the Chicago Police Department reported arresting 686 Venezuelans in 2023, which represents a 11,333% increase in arrests of Venezuelans since 2021,” she wrote. “Further, between October 2023 and January 2024, police in Oak Brook, a Chicago suburb, arrested 47 migrants for retail theft and burglary.”

In his book Right Here, Right Now, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was emphatic that such a situation is unsustainable and has far-reaching consequences. “It contributes to lawlessness, crime, and a lack of confidence in government in general and in the immigration system in particular,” he wrote. “Illegal immigration simply must be confronted.”

The lack of an exact count is also adding vagueness in quantifying the exact financial drain illegal immigration is having on Texans. This is according to a HLF September 2023 paper by Huffines and Peacock. “One group estimated the 2022 costs to illegal aliens to Texans at $9.9 billion. Add in the children of illegal aliens, and the costs expand to $13.3 billion,” they wrote. “While the costs are, at times, difficult to quantify, they are nonetheless substantial.”

This equates to a nearly $2,000 a year bill for a family of four legal residents in Texas. In their October 2023 paper, Huffines and Peacock wrote that illegal immigration’s cost to Texas “is significantly more than any other state except for California.” They state the primary reason illegals cross into America “appears to be a better life,” but that isn’t the only reason. “Greater safety and better jobs might be part of this, but often so are handouts from the U.S., state, and local governments.”

Selene Rodriguez has noticed an entitlement culture in illegal aliens. “Many of the people that we see coming across now—and I’m not assuming this, I have spoken with many law enforcement agencies who have all said this—feel very entitled. As soon as they come over, whether it be a male, a female, a family unit, single adult, for the most part, they’re all asking, ‘Where’s my benefit? I was told I’m going to get an expedited work visa, I was told I’m going to get a cell phone, a free meal, and a warm bed. And I also was told I’m going to get a hotel room,’” she said. When they do get to the cities that provide these types of taxpayer-funded benefits, Rodriguez said more complaints come about the food or the color of the bedsheets. She also noted the recent case in New York City where illegal immigrants attacked law enforcement. “Then they’re let go without any sort of accountability as to where they went.”

This type of system can lead to wanna-be illegal aliens falsely claiming to be refugees. Wade Miller spoke of economic migrants who will say when they are in Panama that they want to come to America for economic opportunity, but when they are in northern Mexico, they start claiming to be political refugees. “They’ve been coached on how to approach federal agents to get processed and released, and how to pass their ‘credible and reasonable fear’ standards throughout their asylum process so that they can stay in the United States of America,” he said. “They’re not actually legitimate asylum seekers.”

Stephen Harper has said public servants are accountable for such abuses. “Policy-makers in the developed world must ensure that their social-welfare programming does not become a magnet for bogus refugee claims,” he wrote in Right Here, Right Now. “Lose sight of this standard, and immigration consultants advocating ‘shopping around’ strategies will quickly appear on the scene.”


Facing the problem at hand, questions persist as to how to start tackling the known unknown of how many illegal immigrants are here.

Huffines and Peacock proposed a place to start. “Require Texas school districts to count and report all non-citizen students and all children of noncitizens,” they wrote in their October 2023 paper. “The unchallenged flow of illegals over the border harms American culture, public policy, the economy, and the integrity of our elections.”

Both point out that having this information and knowing the true size and scope of the problem is “the only way” to trigger a widespread public conversation. “To do this, we must require proof of citizenship status for students before they can enroll in Texas public schools,” they wrote.

Selene Rodriguez believes having the information HLF proposes would be beneficial. “If you have the number of how many illegal alien students you have to educate, then you can know exactly what resources and how much money you need for those resources,” she said. “It can help you hold accountable better those political subdivisions that are already running rampant with all the money that they’re getting.”

Wade Miller himself also wholeheartedly endorsed this proposal. “Texas needs to know exactly how much it needs to charge the federal government for reimbursement,” he said. “I think the state of Texas needs to know exactly how many children are in their school systems as a result of illegal immigrants—whether those children were born here to illegal immigrants or whether they are themselves here illegally.”

Rejection of Illegal Immigration

“Illegal immigration is not popular anywhere in the world at any time,” Stephen Harper said in a February 2018 talk at the Stanford School of Business. “If you want to sustain public support for an immigration system, this has to be a decision the society takes through its laws and enforces the law.”

These attitudes continue today.

On November 22, 2023, the murder of three children in Ireland by a naturalized immigrant from Algeria triggered riots in the nation. Irish professional boxer and mixed martial artist Conor McGregor also spoke out about the tragic murder, holding the country’s public servants accountable for it. “There is grave danger among us in Ireland that should never be here in the first place, and there has been zero action done to support the public in any way, shape or form with this frightening fact. NOT GOOD ENOUGH.”

He has not backed down from calling out those in government office on this issue. “I do not connect crime with migration. I connect crime to your governments[sic] many failed policies in protecting and securing the inhabitants of Ireland. There is a real lapse in national security,” he posted on November 28, 2023. “We need a brand new task force founded to assess all entrants into Ireland. Our natives and our visitors will all benefit with this peace of mind. We need deportation of those here illegally or that have committed a crime here. There needs to be a brand new unit founded specifically for this task.”

Before the events of November 22, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar had encouraged immigrants to register to vote, a process public servants had formalized in 2008. That prompted McGregor to post, “Ireland, we are at war.” The problems have continued to pile up. In January 2024, The Irish Times reported how citizens of the town of Roscrea were protesting the government filling their town with refugees. “We are at capacity in terms of our services,” Fiona Dunford, a mother of three, said. McGregor commented on the situation as well. “Ireland’s current systems in place around immigration showing to be not good for anyone[sic],” he posted on January 15, 2024. “Not safe. Not sustainable. Children put in danger and not a peep out of government. Reform needed.”

Left to Right: Conor McGregor, Leo Varadkar

Elections show that political establishments across the West ignore citizen outcries about illegal immigration at their own risk. Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 election victory was built on his promise to “Build the Wall” to secure the border. A significant part of the 2016 Brexit election victory was built on the massive waves of immigration into the United Kingdom. Brexit champion Nigel Farage said the UK’s then-membership in the European Union meant the British people had no control over their borders.

Even in the past, illegal immigration has been a dominant force. A substantial part of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s 2001 re-election victory was built on the promise of border protection and stopping illegal immigration. “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come,” he said on February 11, 2001. Australians rehired him with an increased majority in their House of Representatives. Border security would be a major plank that fueled the 2013 victory of Howard’s successor, Tony Abbott. Both men followed through on their promise by deploying the Australian navy to turn back boats of illegal immigrants.

Left to Right: John Howard, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage.

All eyes remain on McGregor, as he has indicated he intends to run for president of Ireland. It would not be a surprise if he were to win. But already, some measures of change are starting to show. On January 16, 2024, McGregor announced that the Mayo County Council had demanded the government reassess its migration protocols and had voted to stop working with the Department of Immigration. “You cannot expect the communities of Ireland to tolerate this treatment any longer. The government must remember they are servants of the people, not masters,” he posted.

Stephen Harper agrees. He emphasized the importance of the “consent of the governed” when it comes to immigration in his book Right Here, Right Now. “Sovereign countries have a right and a responsibility to determine their own criteria for immigration, naturalization, and citizenship. Choices about who can join and under what conditions are among the most fundamental functions of a sovereign nation,” he wrote. “Reward illegal immigration, ignore real security threats, have no economic focus, encourage the kind of multiculturalism that fractures society, and two things will happen. Immigrants will often fail, and immigration will be widely resented.”

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.