About 10,000 undocumented immigrants work in the agriculture industry in the state of Idaho Pixabay

SEATTLE - It's nothing new, but a recent report conducted by the University of Idaho revealed that unauthorized immigrants play an important role in the state's economy, just like all around the United States. Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the overall number of unauthorized immigrants across the country reached 12.2 million in 2007 before declining to 10.5 million in 2021. Out of that number, around 35,000 live in the state of Idaho and work in industries such as agriculture, services and construction.

But a high number of immigrants living in Idaho is nothing new, it's something that has been going on for decades. In 2021, 76% of unauthorized immigrant adults reported to have been living in Idaho for six or more years, while more detailed data from 2014 showed that at least half of them had been in Idaho for more than 16 years, the longest length of stay in the nation.

The report, published in June of 2024, found out that most unauthorized immigrants living in Idaho are working (86%) and their impact in the local economy is huge. In 2019, unauthorized immigrants had an estimated $570 million available for spending, contributing to the state's economy with every little purchase they make.

The study found out that most unauthorized immigrants work in the same type of jobs. An estimated 10,000 workers are in the agriculture industry, 10,000 more are currently working in services such as restaurants, hotels and about 5,000 are working in construction.

Nationally, undocumented immigrants account for about 50% of all hired field and crop workers. According to data by the New American Economy Research Fund, undocumented immigrants made up at least 20% of the total workforce in the following industries:

  • Agricultural workers (all types) - 36.1%
  • Grounds maintenance workers - 26.7%
  • Service-related workers - 25.1%
  • Textile, apparel and furnishings workers - 23.1%

According to the Pew Research Center, 4.6% of U.S. workers in 2021 were undocumented immigrants, and only Florida and Washington saw increases to their unauthorized immigrant populations between 2017 and 2021. The states of California (-150,000) and Nevada (-25,000) saw the biggest decreases across the country.

U.S. unauthorized immigrant population by state, 2021
U.S. unauthorized immigrant population by state, 2021 Via Pew Research Center based on U.S. Census Bureau data

Besides contributing to the local economies, undocumented immigrants have a great impact in crucial public benefits like Social Security. According to, undocumented immigrants pay nearly $50 billion in federal, state and local taxes despite being ineligible to access most federal or state-funded benefits.

In Idaho, undocumented immigrants pay a little over $26.3 million in taxes each year according to the most recent year in which data was available (2014).

But despite the economic impact undocumented immigrants have in Idaho, members of the state congress tried to pass a couple of legislations to push for stricter immigration policies. House Bill 615 tried to prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing publicly-funded assistance, while House Bill 753 was looking to create a new crime known as illegal entry.

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