10 Misconceptions About U.S. Immigration

Most Immigration is Illegal Immigration
People take the U.S. citizenship oath during a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, May 28, 2015. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Much of what you hear in the news today regarding immigrants centers around illegal immigration, but it's couched under the very broad term of "immigration." So you might be left thinking that most immigrants nowadays must have arrived in some illegal fashion. In reality, the vast majority of today's immigrants enter the U.S. legally.

In 2013, there were 41.3 million immigrants living in America, the highest number since recordkeeping began in 1850. Those 41.3 million people compose 13 percent of America's 316 million residents. Nearly 47 percent of those immigrants, or 19.4 million people, are already naturalized U.S. citizens, a process that takes five years.

That doesn't mean the remaining 53 percent are here illegally, though. Some are lawful permanent residents (people with green cards, awaiting the chance to become naturalized) or people holding legal, temporary visas, such as students and temporary workers. The number of people illegally in the U.S. was estimated to be 11.4 million in 2012 [sources: Zong and Batalova, Department of Homeland Security]. Do the math, and that means roughly three-quarters of the country's immigrants are here legally, and just one-quarter are unauthorized residents.