The number of immigrants living illegally in the United States jumped by a million in under four years, the government reported.
The US Immigration and Naturalisation Service reported that roughly seven million immigrants, mostly Mexicans, were living illegally in the United States as of January 2000.
The illegal immigrant population grew on average during the 1990s by 350,000 a year.
The totals are likely to trigger further outcry from groups seeking greater restrictions on immigration and tougher enforcement of immigration laws.
“These numbers again confirm that America has lost control of its borders,” said Steve Camarota, research director for the Centre for Immigration Studies, a group that wants to curb immigration.
Since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, US immigration laws and enforcement have been under heightened scrutiny. But all 19 of the hijackers entered the country legally, with travel, student or business visas. Most of the visas were still valid at the time of the attacks.
John Gay, a lobbyist for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said the numbers should not be a surprise because “we all know how broken the system is”. The association lobbies on behalf of businesses who rely on immigrant labour.
“If you’ve got an economy that is sucking that many workers into it and no reasonably legal means to bring them in, then it’s broken,” Gay said.
Mexicans made up 69%, or 4.8 million, of the illegal immigrant population in 2000, compared with 58% in 1990, the INS said.
Aside from Mexico, other countries which were each the source of more than 100,000 citizens illegally in the United States include El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, China and Ecuador.