By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — From talk of refugees, sanctuary cities and a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration is a hot-button issue these days. In 2014, more than 1.5 million people came from other countries to live in the U.S.

So, where did they come from? And, how do they get here? Good Question.

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The data, especially on undocumented immigrants, isn’t easy to find.

“It makes a great question,” says Jack DeWaard, a professor of sociology and population studies at the University of Minnesota. “With every data point, we have to take it with a grain of salt.”

He says migration data, unlike birth or mortality information, is notoriously challenging because it takes more resources to collect and is generally only collected from one angle. DeWaard and other researchers often triangulate the information and use multiple pieces of data from sources like the Migration Policy Institute, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Census and Pew Research Center.

“If those pieces come up with the same conclusions, we generally say that’s a valid finding,” he says.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are 43 million immigrants in the U.S., which is approximately 14 percent of the population. Just over 11 million of them are undocumented.

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In 2014, 1.3 million immigrants came to the U.S. legally. The top five countries for legal entrants are India (147,500), China (131,800), Mexico (130,000), Canada (41,200) and Philippines (40,500).

According to the Center for Migration Studies, the best estimates for undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. in 2014 range between 100,000 and 400,000.

Traditionally, those undocumented immigrants would get into the U.S. in two ways – by overstaying their visas and or what’s called “entry without inspection” (EWI). In most cases, people who come to the U.S. via EWI cross the border with Mexico.

Data shows about 210,000 people overstayed their visas in 2012, compared to the 150,000 people who arrived via EWI.

More recent data from the Department of Homeland Security in 2015 found 416,000 people overstayed their visas – about 1 percent of the people who were given tourist, student or work visas. The top three countries are Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

As for people who enter the country through the border with Mexico, the Pew Research Center finds the top three countries are Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala.

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For more information about this topic, Professor DeWaard welcomes opportunities to talk about immigration and immigrants with people and groups in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota. He can be reached at

Heather Brown