How many people should die waiting for citizenship? 319,462?

Just the facts. Or, a very crude estimate of the facts. You tell me if this is too many deaths.

Here I combine sources of information to produce a guess of how many undocumented immigrants will die waiting 13 years to become citizens under the proposed immigration reform bill. The information includes the number and ages of the current undocumented population, and the 2008 Hispanic life table estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics (which tell you the death rate for people in that group for every age by sex).

Here is my guess. If the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants waited 13 years to become citizens, 319,462 — or 2.8% of them — will die in the process. If that were true, do you think it would be too many, or too few?

Some details

The Congressional Research Service in 2012 estimated that there were 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the country in 2011. This is their age distribution by sex:

undocumented age sexMy estimate makes the following unreasonable assumptions:

  1. The undocumented population is evenly distributed within each of these age groups, with the 55+ group evenly distributed between the ages 55-64 only. This is undoubtedly not true, but probably doesn’t make much difference unless the 55+ group is much older than I’m guessing.
  2. The death rates for undocumented immigrants are equal to those of the U.S. Hispanic population. Why? 81% of the undocumented population is from Latin America, so that’s where I start (which seems to be what these serious demographers did, too). This would be off because immigrants have lower mortality rates than US-born Hispanics. On the other hand, undocumented immigrants might have higher mortality than immigrants in general, especially because of health-care access problems, which the proposed bill promises not to address. I don’t know how these or other factors balance out.
  3. Nobody leaves the country alive, and no more undocumented immigrants arrive.

If you’d like to see how I did it, here is my spreadsheet. (If you don’t like the way Excel does the maths, by all means, fix it in R.)


Filed under In the news

6 responses to “How many people should die waiting for citizenship? 319,462?

  1. Obviously, with Reinhart & Rogoff in the news you want to make your spreadsheet available. But, this is a great illustration for others to use.


  2. Obviously, not a single one should die. But of course this is not an argument for an amnesty or loosening of immigration laws. *facepalm*


    • Welcome to demography. People die every day. If you have a divorce-delay law, people will die waiting for divorce; if you have a gun purchase waiting period, people will die waiting. People die waiting for a tax refund, and for the cable installer. The question is how many. The number isn’t an argument, it’s information that could be use to support an argument.


      • szopen

        THis information is irrelevant to the argument, IMHO. But the title “how many SHOULD die waiting for citizenship” implies that this is not just an information (and I am happy to see that you have answered your own question).


  3. Scott Rose

    If the U.S. were honest about its immigration policy history, everybody would know about Peter Bergson (aka Hillel Kook) and how he tried — largely unsuccessfully — to get Roosevelt to save Jews from Hitler’s Europe. Breckinridge Long of the State Department deliberately made it impossible for Jews to get visas. A movie narrated by Dustin Hoffman “Against the Tide” tells Bergson’s story. “How many people should die?” indeed.


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