Not in the U.S. legally: Immigration facts and views from A-Z

Statistics can tell us anything we want them to tell us. Here are views about general rights, employment and crime, as relating to immigrants.

In a 2014 update to "Carmen," the Santa Fe Opera placed Carmen and her smuggler pals at the U.S.-Mexican border. (Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera)

WASHINGTON, July 24, 2016 — The current political climate has been rife with conversations, often heated, concerning individuals who are not in our country legally. Herewith is a summary of current law, some varying opinions and some statistics.


Despite their unlawful immigration status, individuals living, and perhaps working in the United States have some rights under the United States Constitution. Aspects of the Constitution that address certain basic human rights apply to everyone, even those without proper documentation.

The 14th Amendment provides that “No state shall… deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law, nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Various other Amendments also apply (First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth) in crime-related matters.

Examples follow. Everyone, including people here not legally, has:

  • The right to a trial by jury if charged with certain crimes
  • The right against being searched illegally or having their property illegally seized
  • The right against self incrimination
  • The right to contest deportation or removal efforts and the right to an attorney in immigration court (but the government does not have to pay for that attorney)

In civil matters, everyone, including people here not legally, has:

  • The right to file lawsuits, such as personal injury and discrimination suits
  • The right to receive notice of and defend civil claims
  • The right to obtain a driver’s license in certain states (which does not confer any form of legal status, but says you are allowed to drive a car in that state), including: California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Washington


While undocumented people do not have the right to work in the United States, if they do work, they have the right to be paid for the work they do at minimum wage at least plus overtime. They have the right to healthy and safe working conditions that are also free from abuse, exploitation, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination. If they are hurt on the job, they have the right to collect worker’s compensation benefits in some states. They may even have the right to collect disability insurance benefits if funds were taken from their paychecks. All people have the right to organize and join a union.

Individuals working here illegally are mostly not allowed to collect unemployment benefits because a condition of the benefits is that they are allowed to work.

In a 2016 survey, Pew Research Center says that approximately 5 percent of the U.S. labor force is undocumented. In a study reported in May, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) places the percentage at 5.1.

In 2014, Pew says there were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., or approximately 3.5 percent of the nation’s population. This number is down from 2007, when 12.2 million unauthorized were here, constituting 4 percent of the population.

DOL, again from the May, 2016 study, indicates that in 2015 there were 26.3 million foreign-born persons in the U.S. labor force. Taken together with the Pew study, this means that about 40 percent of foreign-born people who are in the U.S. are undocumented.

In 2014, Mexico accounted for the most people immigrating to the U.S.: 28 percent of the total number of all immigrants. India, then China, then the Philippines were next at about 5 percent each, followed by El Salvador, Vietnam, Cuba and Korea, all around 3% of the total who came here.

The Congress Blog (April 23, 2014):

“When analyzed from the vantage point of information derived from reputable, nonpartisan sources (the Pew Research Center, USDA, United States Department of Labor, and leading economists and researchers) then one can obtain a clearer view of this muddled discussion. The truth of the matter is that illegal immigrants are important to the U.S. economy, as well as vital to certain industries like agriculture.”

Agree: Danny Vinik, The New Republic (July 8, 2014):

“Many undocumented immigrants pay taxes, use government services and collect benefits. Most importantly, undocumented immigrants contribute to the economy. Labor economists agree that there are net gains to having a larger labor supply… in total, undocumented immigrants benefit the economy.”

Disagree: Robert Rector, Heritage Foundation (May, 2013):

“In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying some $10,334 in taxes. This generated an average annual fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household. This cost had to be borne by U.S. taxpayers… all unlawful immigrant households together have an aggregate annual deficit of around $54.5 billion.”

Recall the 2004 movie “A Day Without A Mexican.”


From those viewing crime stats as “not so bad”:

A July 14, 2015 Wall Street Journal article headlined “The Mythical Connection between Immigrants and Crime” stated that “newcomers to the U.S. are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or be incarcerated.”

Undocumented immigrants accounted for 9.2 percent of federal murder convictions in 2013. That represented a grand total of eight murder cases. The FBI estimates there were 14,196 murders in the U.S. in 2013.

FBI statistics, and the American Immigration Council, using different criteria and different types of data, both concluded that undocumented immigrants commit violent crimes at a far lower rate than native-born Americans.

Walter Ewing, a senior researcher for the AIC says “Immigrants who experience even the slightest brush with the criminal justice system, such as being convicted of a misdemeanor, can find themselves subject to detention for an undetermined period, after which they are expelled from the country and barred from returning… In other words, for years the government has been redefining what it means to be a ‘criminal alien,’ using increasingly stringent definitions and standards of ‘criminality’ that do not apply to U.S. citizens.”

The Center for Immigration Studies opposes any kind of plan to grant legal status to undocumented immigrants and regularly testifies in Congress against them. Janie Kephart, a senior CIS researcher states “There is no evidence that immigrants are either more or less likely to commit crimes than anyone else in the population.”

From those viewing crime stats as “very bad”:

Various commentators say there are few statistics that are available from individual states because of the fear that the stats will make them look bad. Fox News conducted an investigation and reported in September, 2015 that illegal immigrants are three times more likely to be convicted of murder compared to the general population and that they account for far more crimes than their 3.5 percent share of the U.S. population.

The Government Accountability Office in “most recent figures available” in a report titled “Criminal Alien Statistics” found there were 55,000 illegal immigrants in federal prison and 296,000 in state and local jails in 2011.

On August, 2015, Tom Tancredo reported on that the mainstream media tries to hide “true” statistics of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

Tancredo says “There is widespread public ignorance of illegal alien crime in every state because the mainstream media does not investigate such matters. Why? Because they do not want the public to think about such things. The media, from the Associated Press down to the Main Street News, does not even allow the phrase ‘illegal immigrant’ to appear in print.

Tancredo offers GAO and DOJ data to back up his claim:

  • Between 2008 and 2014, 40 percent of all murder convictions in Florida were criminal aliens. In New York it was 34 percent and Arizona 17.8 percent.
  • During those years, criminal aliens accounted for 38 percent of all murder convictions in the five states of California, Texas, Arizona, Florida and New York, while illegal aliens constitute only 5.6 percent of the total population in those states.
  • That 38 percent represents 7,085 murders out of the total of 18,643.

Five things are clear:

  1. People are in the United States who should not be here.
  2. Many of these people are helping the United States and its citizens.
  3. Many of these people are hurting the United States and its citizens.
  4. Statistics will NEVER provide an accurate picture.
  5. Both the perceived and the real “problems” as such are here to stay until we develop measured answers addressing the positives and negatives.

Currently proposed solutions:

Donald Trump: Build a wall.

Hilary Clinton: Build a bridge.

Ideal: Elected officials work together.

Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website:

Samakow has now also started a small business consulting firm. His new book “Step By Step, Achieve Small Business Success” is available at

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