As is true throughout the country, most foreign-born residents of Alaska are here with appropriate documentation; that is, their immigration has occurred legally under established laws and regulations. The picture of immigration in Alaska, however—both authorized and unauthorized—differs in some details from that of the country as a whole. The most important difference is that unauthorized immigrants are comparatively few in number, forming a very low percentage of the state’s population.
According to the best figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau, which are an average drawn over the five-year period 2005–2009—around 45,000 Alaska residents were foreign born—slightly less than 7 percent of the total population. Of this number, about 13,000 had entered the country since 2000. In the nation as a whole for the same period, about 37 million people—12 percent of the total population—were foreign born. (See Table 1 and “Note on Data Sources for Immigration Articles” on page 3.)
Slightly more than half of the state’s foreign-born residents were naturalized U.S. citizens, while in the country overall, about 44 percent of the immigrant population had acquired citizenship.
Immigrants from Asian countries formed a greater proportion of the foreign-born population in Alaska than they did in the U.S. overall. (See Tables 1 and 2.) According to the Census Bureau figures, almost half of the immigrant population in Alaska had come from Asia, with the Philippines being the country of origin for the largest number of immigrants in Alaska. Fewer than a third came from countries in the Americas. In contrast, in the country as a whole, the largest proportion of immigrants—over 55 percent—had come from the Americas, with Mexico being by far the most common country of origin.
Over the last two decades there has been a substantial increase in the number of people in the country without authorization. The precise numbers for the country as a whole and for Alaska in particular are obviously impossible to pinpoint, but there are some commonly accepted broad estimates.
According to figures published earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, in March 2010 there were 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States. (See Table 3.) In Alaska, there were fewer than 10,000—possibly substantially fewer. Pew estimates that the number was less than 1 percent of the state’s population. In the country as a whole, the unauthorized immigrant population was around 3.7 percent of the total population. In some states, the percentages were much higher—6.8 percent in California, 6.7 percent in Texas, and 6 percent in Arizona.
Since 1990 the number of unauthorized immigrants in the state may have as much as doubled. In other states, however, the increase has been much more precipitous. According to the Pew March 2010 estimates, there had been an increase of more than 340 percent in Florida, more than 360 percent in Texas, and over 440 percent in Arizona. In the nation as a whole, the number of unauthorized immigrants had more than tripled since 1990.
In general, however, the 2010 figures showed a slight decline since 2007, when the national total of unauthorized immigrants was estimated to be 12,000,000—the highest number reached. The figures for some individual states also showed declines, but it was impossible to determine from the data available if this was true for Alaska. (The Alaska total was simply too small to report any change with confidence, since the change would fall within the given margin of error.)
Labor Force Participation of Unauthorized Immigrants
Pew estimates that, in March 2010, there were approximately eight million unauthorized immigrants in the nation’s workforce—5.2 percent of the total labor force. In some states this percentage was much higher. In California, for instance, unauthorized immigrants may have been as much as 10 percent of the work force; in Texas, 9 percent. In Alaska the number was much lower; unauthorized immigrants are estimated to be only 1.5 percent of the total Alaska workforce of approximately 358,000 people.
The figures presented above are the most recent available on immigration. Since their compilation, there will have been some fluctuation, but for Alaska where the numbers have consistently been low, the change—either up or down—has probably not been large.
Antonia Moras is the former editor of the Alaska Justice Forum.