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How many undocumented Canadians live in the United States?

PolitiFact | Nonpartisan experts on migration have estimated that there are tens of thousands of undocumented Canadians in the U.S.
Vehicles enter the United States as a bus drives to Canada in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in Detroit on March 16, 2020.
Vehicles enter the United States as a bus drives to Canada in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in Detroit on March 16, 2020. [ PAUL SANCYA | AP ]
Published Oct. 5, 2021

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush said the treatment of Haitians at the U.S. border is not about immigration but something more sinister — and she shared a statistic about our North American neighbors to the north as evidence.

“Approximately 60,000 Canadians currently live undocumented in the USA,” tweeted Bush, a Missouri Democrat, Sept. 23. “You don’t see the militarized presence, cops on horseback, and calls for a wall on that border. The issue has never been about immigration. It’s about anti-Blackness and racism.”

Bush’s criticism came as the Biden administration dealt with fallout from its handling of thousands of Haitian migrants who in September crossed the border illegally into Texas. Images and videos of Border Patrol agents pursuing the migrants prompted outcry from some within Biden’s party, as did the administration’s decision to expel thousands.

For decades, the U.S. government’s treatment of refugees has varied greatly depending on where they are from. An Associated Press analysis of asylum data, for example, found that from October 2018 through June 2021 Haitians were granted asylum at the lowest rate of any nationality.

We wanted to know if Bush was right about the number of undocumented Canadians in the U.S.

We found that her statistic is in the ballpark of some available data, but the data lacks precision. Bush’s congressional office declined to comment since she tweeted from her personal account. Her campaign did not respond to our query.

What we know about the number of undocumented Canadians

There is no exact science for calculating the size of the unauthorized population in the United States.We reached out to nonpartisan experts and found that while their estimates vary, they tend to be in the same ballpark.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that “approximately 57,000 unauthorized immigrants from Canada resided in the United States as of 2018, accounting for less than 1 percent of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country.”

Some of the largest pockets of unauthorized immigrants from Canada were in Los Angeles, the Boston area, Florida’s Broward County, Arizona’s Maricopa County, and Washington state’s King County, the Migration Policy Institute found.

The Pew Research Center estimated that in 2017 there were about 80,000 unauthorized immigrants from Canada. That estimate had a margin of error of +/- 15,000, which puts it in the same ballpark as the Migration Policy Institute number.

The number of unauthorized immigrants from Canada has been dropping steadily in recent years, said Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at Pew.

For unauthorized Canadians, “a figure of 60,000 for today is roughly consistent with the findings of our research,” Passel said.

Robert Warren, a senior fellow at the Center for Migration Studies, estimated that in 2019 the undocumented Canadian population in the U.S. was 32,000. Warren is a former longtime demographer for the U.S. Census Bureau and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service.

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None of these estimates rely on post-COVID era data, so they do not reflect a snapshot of what has happened during a period when it has been more difficult to cross the U.S. border.

Homeland Security tracks visa overstayers

The Department of Homeland Security releases annual reports on the number of foreign visitors who came to the U.S. legally, but stayed beyond the time period for which their admission had been authorized. These visitors are referred to as “visa overstayers,” although Canadians generally don’t require a visa to visit the U.S. for a few months.

Ravi Jain, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer who is also licensed to practice law in Massachusetts, told us that undocumented Canadians in the U.S. are often looking for work, some as models, actors and singers. When they get a gig, they stay. Sometimes they find a romantic partner in the U.S. and “just don’t file the paperwork timely, too.”

The Homeland Security overstay report for 2019 showed out of about 10 million expected departures, there were about 84,000 “suspected” Canadian overstayers.

The overstay estimates available could be inflated.

“To give a concrete example…You have a temporary visa that calls for you to leave the U.S. on Sept. 28 but you leave on Oct. 2. You will be counted as a ‘suspected in-county overstay’ as of the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30) even though you have left the country,” Passel said.

Our ruling

Bush tweeted that “approximately 60,000 Canadians currently live undocumented in the USA.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint a precise count of undocumented Canadians, but Bush’s number is in the ballpark of data by experts including those at the Migration Policy Institute and the Pew Research Center.

We rate this statement Mostly True.