Although the face of the undocumented resident is so often portrayed as Hispanic, a significant number of those living illegally in the U.S. actually immigrated from other parts of the world. This point was emphasized by President Barack Obama during a recent speech in which he defended his executive decision that is intended to largely decriminalize the offense of illegal residency.
President Obama Addresses the Undocumented Population
“Not everybody who comes here is Latino,” said President Obama in an address to members of the Polish community in Chicago. The gist of his presentation was to emphasize that many of the estimated 5 million undocumented residents who will benefit from his order represent the world community and are not only from Central and South America. President Obama stated that in his home city there are Polish and Irish immigrants “whose papers aren’t in order.” He noted that others living illegally in Chicago are Ukrainian and, in Florida, there are a number of undocumented residents who came from Haiti. “This is an American issue,” he said.
Chicago has been near the forefront of the immigration issue, with many of its business and civic leaders lobbying for reforms in the current law and even helping immigrants assimilate into their adopted country. Other efforts are aimed at assisting immigrant families obtain the materials needed to prevent their deportation. Illinois Congressman Luis Guiterrez, who is one of the strongest advocates of immigration reform, said he hoped the visit by President Obama would “broaden the face” of the immigrant community.
Dispelling the Myth of the Hispanic Immigrant
An example of an undocumented resident who is not Hispanic is a local restaurateur originally from Ireland, who met President Obama during his visit to Chicago. Billy Lawless immigrated to the U.S. in 1998 and subsequently opened an Irish pub. He today has three restaurants in the city that employ 260 workers. He presented himself as a former undocumented resident who works hard and helps many others, including undocumented immigrants.
Estimates on the number of undocumented residents living in the U.S. range from as few as seven million to as many as 30 million. One survey completed in 2008 placed the number at 11 million. Although around 80 percent of these immigrated from countries in Latin America, and more than half of them from Mexico, approximately one in 10 came from Asia and a smaller percentage from Europe. Only three percent of the undocumented residents in the U.S. are from the continent of Africa. However, another study showed that approximately 70,000 Canadians live illegally in the U.S.
Based on press accounts and related research, this article is intended to help readers better understand the ethnic diversity of residents living illegally in the U.S.