Nearly 1 in 5 US residents a foreign-born immigrant or 'anchor baby' - study

A new US citizen takes a selfie with her mobile phone after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a special naturalization ceremony © Mike Segar
Three quarters of America's current 61 million "foreign-born" immigrants and their children came to the US legally, according to a new analysis of US Census data. The study comes as immigration is a hot topic in the presidential elections campaign.

As of December 2015, there were 61 million immigrants and their children under age 18 reported living in the US, according to census data analyzed by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a think tank opposed to immigration, both legal and illegal, in the US. Just over 45 million of those immigrants and their children entered the US legally, the analysis found.

Those numbers mean about one in five people residing in the US is a "foreign-born" immigrant or child of an immigrant, CIS reported. CIS counts as foreign-born anyone who was not a US citizen at birth and includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, long-term temporary visitors to the US, and undocumented immigrants.

The current and recent rate of immigration into the US today represents a marked increase from decades past, CIS said.

"The numbers represent a complete break with the recent history of the United States," CIS wrote. "As recently as 1970, there were only 13.5 million immigrants and their young children in the country, accounting for one in 15 U.S. residents."

Since 2000, the number of immigrants and their children has risen by 18.4 million, CIS researchers noted, calling the increase in immigration in some states since 1970 "astonishing".

Georgia, Nevada, and North Carolina have seen immigration-population rates spike by around 3,000 percent since 1970, CIS reported. Rates for Arkansas and Tennessee went up nearly 2,000 percent over the same period, while rates for Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arizona increased by more than 1,000 percent.

"With some 45 million legal immigrants and their young children already here, should we continue to admit a million new legal permanent immigrants every year?" CIS researchers wrote.

Immigration policy, especially toward people in the US illegally, has been a major driver in the ongoing US presidential campaign. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump's campaign opened with the candidate vowing to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.

"I would build a great wall - and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me and I'll build them very inexpensively," Trump said in June. "I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall."

Last week, Trump appealed to anti-immigration sentiment in the US while announcing his healthcare plan. He said “providing healthcare to illegal immigrants costs us some $11 billion annually. If we were to simply enforce the current immigration laws and restrict the unbridled granting of visas to this country, we could relieve healthcare cost pressures on state and local governments.”

Republican candidates have also quarreled over H1-B immigration visas, which allow temporary workers from overseas. Last week, during a GOP candidate debate, Trump said he supported the visa program after previously opposing it; yet his campaign clarified his overall opposition following the debate. Republican candidate Ted Cruz, meanwhile, insisted the H1-B system has been rife with abuse.

Prior to the debate, Cruz lambasted Trump's supposed use of immigration laws to hire low-wage workers at the latter's hotel in Florida.

“Donald Trump does not get to exploit the immigration laws and take advantage of American workers, and then pretend he is going to be a champion for American workers," Cruz said.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have spoken out against the current, nationwide federal deportation effort, and both advocate for legislative-based immigration reform that would need the input of the Republican-led Congress.

Since the beginning of 2016, the Obama administration has conducted nationwide raids of immigrant communities, particularly immigrants who entered the US after January 1, 2014, and have received orders of deportation since then. The raids have been widely condemned as punitive and inhumane.

The Obama administration has defended its recent raids, saying that it is following guidelines the US Department of Homeland Security adopted in November of 2014. The number of deportations during President Barack Obama's first term hit new highs, though they have declined since.