American Renaissance

Immigration Impact — Arizona

Federation for American Immigration Reform

FAIR has profiles on the effect of immigration on every state. Click here.

State Population 5,580,811
Population Increase 1990-2000 1,465,404
Foreign-Born Population 658,153
Percent Foreign-Born 12.8%
Illegal Resident Population 283,0001
2025 Population Projection 6,412,000

Additional Census Bureau, INS, and other immigration-related data are available for Arizona.

Immigration-driven population growth is taking its toll on Arizona, the second fastest growing state in the U.S. During the last decade, nearly 1.5 million new residents settled in Arizona — the equivalent of adding more people than the entire population of the city of Phoenix to the state, and an increase larger than the entire population of the state in 1960. More than one-quarter of these new residents were immigrants. This influx — and the accompanying costs for health care, police, incarceration, schools, and other services — has become a financial and quality of life catastrophe that Arizona can no longer ignore.

Profile in Numbers

Population Increase

From 1990 to 2000, Arizona’s population increased by 40 percent — three times faster than the national average. During the 1990s, Arizona gained 1.5 million residents, reaching a total population of 5.1 million people in 2000.

Maricopa County gained the most people of any county in the U.S. in the last decade, adding almost 1 million people. Arizona was also home to three of the U.S.’s top ten fastest growing large cities during the 1990s: Gilbert, Peoria, and Chandler.

Foreign-Born Population

The increase in the foreign-born population during the 1990s accounted for 26 percent of the state’s overall population increase during the decade. Foreign-born residents now account for 13 percent of the state’s total population.

Arizona’s foreign-born population increased 136 percent during the 1990s, the ninth largest percent increase in the country. Between 1990 and 2000, Arizona gained almost 380,000 immigrants, bringing the total number of foreign-born residents in the state to over 650,000.

Immigration and Your Community

FAIR has immigration data for local communities in Arizona as well. See our full listing of pages about Arizona for information about your locality.

Trends for the Future

The Census Bureau’s middle series projection estimates that Arizona’s population will increase by 34 percent between 2000 and 2025, to 6.4 million.2

Impact on Environment and Quality of Life

Health Care: Arizona hospitals spend $150 million annually to provide care to illegal aliens, according to the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.4 Some hospitals in rural counties have had to scale down or discontinue some services for the general population in order to continue to pay for care for illegal aliens.5

The health department in Cochise County, where the population of illegal aliens is estimated to have increased by 48 percent since 1999, spends almost a third of its budget on care for illegal aliens. At least one hospital there — Southeast Arizona Medical Center — has filed for bankruptcy and is in danger of closing due to uncompensated care for illegal aliens.6,7

Increasingly frustrated with millions of dollars in uncompensated care, University Medical Center (Tucson) hospital administrators are reporting uninsured immigrants who don’t pay their medical bills to immigration officials. UMC incurred $3.3 million in immigrants’ unpaid bills in one four-month period in 2003. At least three Arizona hospitals are sending bill collectors into Mexico to try to obtain payment.8

Water: Population growth means additional demands for water in this desert state. Phoenix is already predicting that it only has enough water to support demand through 2017.9 And population growth is negating water conversation efforts: Although residents have successfully cut their per capita water consumption by nearly 40 percent since the start of the last decade, total water use in 2004 was the same as in 1990.10

Traffic: As population growth puts more traffic on the roads, the average commute for Arizona residents increased 15 percent during the 1990s, to 22 minutes in 2000. This was a faster rate of increase than the national average of 14 percent.11,12 Phoenix area commuters spend 61 hours a year in rush hour traffic, triple what it was two decades ago.

Phoenix is now the fifth most congested area in the country,13 with roads so congested that the fire department has trouble reaching accident victims — and is considering adding motorcycles to its fleet to speed up response times.14

Despite a $122 million plan to widen Interstate 10, state transportation officials say the freeway will be “bumper to bumper,” with more cars than road space, by 2025 because of population growth.15

Disappearing open space: As Arizona’s population has risen, so has the need for additional housing: The total number of housing units in Arizona increased by 32 percent during the 1990s.16,17 This has led to dramatic losses of open space; Maricopa County, home to more than 60 percent of the state’s population, consumes an acre of farmland every hour.18

National Parks: Migrant smuggling is causing serious harm to the fragile ecosystems and natural resources in southeastern Arizona, a recent government report found. It reported that wilderness areas are being damaged by the creation of unwanted trails and roads, damage to existing trails, and large amounts of trash: “This proliferation of trails damages and destroys cactus and other sensitive vegetation, disrupts or prohibits revegetation, disturbs wildlife and their cover and travel routes, causes soil compaction and erosion, impacts stream bank stability, and often times confuses legitimate users of trails on federal lands.”19

An environmental impact study of the damage to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where officials caught 200,000 illegal aliens in 2001, finds that it could take 20 years for the area to recover from damage wrought by smugglers and illegal aliens trekking through.20 200 miles of unauthorized roads have been carved into the park’s wilderness.21

Lack of affordable housing: As population rises, the housing supply often can’t keep pace with the demand, causing housing prices to rise sharply. Over the past decade, the median price of an existing house in metropolitan Phoenix — where nearly a third of households are affected by lack of affordable housing22 — has increased by 70 percent.23 Arizona workers who earn minimum wage must work 117 hours per week in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at the area’s fair market rent. Arizona’s housing wage (the amount a full-time worker must earn per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent) is $15, but its minimum wage is $5.15.24

Crowded housing: More than one in ten households live in crowded or substandard conditions,25 and 80,000 state residents (four percent of the population) live in severely crowded housing, a 72 percent increase since 1990.26,27 Studies show that a rise in crowded housing often correlates with an increase in the number of foreign-born.28,29

Sprawl: As population growth forces development further and further out from traditional metropolitan centers, Phoenix and Tucson are in danger of forming one giant megalopolis.30

Crime: Arizona’s overcrowded prison system (built for 26,000 inmates but holding more than 30,000) accounts for 10.7 of the state’s general budget fund (up from 4 percent 24 years ago). Mexican nationals account for ten percent of Arizona’s prisoner population.31

Poverty: 25 percent of immigrants in Arizona have incomes below the poverty level. Among non-citizen immigrants, the rate climbs to 30 percent.32

Immigration and School Overcrowding

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of Arizona children have immigrant parents. Seven percent are themselves foreign-born.33 This influx of immigrants and their children is contributing to severe school overcrowding problems in the state.

Between 1990 and 2000, Arizona’s elementary and high school enrollment increased 44 percent. While school enrollment is projected to increase by only four percent nationally between 2001 and 2013, Arizona is expecting a twelve percent increase. 34

In Phoenix, schools are so crowded that some students are attending classes in a former mall and in a converted grocery store.35 In Mesa, schools have even run out of room for classroom trailers, so 700 elementary school students attend classes in an old grocery store.36 In Gilbert, which is growing faster than any U.S. community its size, schools are so crowded that some students were without desks and cafeteria tables at the start of the 2003-04 school year.37 Arizona’s student/teacher ratio of 20 students per teacher is almost a quarter higher than the national average and is the third highest in the country. 38

Arizona spends $187 million annually to educate illegal immigrant students in grades K-12.39

Illegal Immigration in Arizona

283,000 illegal aliens resided in Arizona as of 2000, according to INS figures. This is the sixth largest number of illegal immigrants in the country and is 146 percent higher than the previous INS estimate in 1996 and 222 percent higher than the estimate for 1990.40

The Arizona border with Mexico is a popular point for illegal crossings; the Tucson area has had the most illegal alien arrests in the nation in recent years. In 2001, the Border Patrol arrested about 450,000 people for crossing the border illegally.41

In some areas, such as Douglas, residents are so fearful of alien smugglers that they say they avoid going out alone at night.42 In Cochise County, which shares 84 miles of border with Mexico, problems associated with illegal immigration cost residents 37 cents of every tax dollar they pay, according to the county’s sheriff.43 About ten percent of the county’s health department budget goes toward treatment of illegal aliens.44

Arizona authorities requested compensation of $41 million from the federal government in FY’99 for the incarceration of illegal aliens in state and local jails and prisons (under the federal State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP), but it received only $16 in compensation, leaving $25 million in uncompensated costs to be borne by Arizona taxpayers. (This is the latest year for which full data is available, but federal SCAAP payments ave been shrinking overall.)


  1. “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: 1990-2000,” Office of Policy Planning, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, January 2003.
  2. “Projections of the Total Population of States: 1995 to 2025,” Population Estimates Program, U.S. Census Bureau.
  3. “Table 4-1A, Nativity and Parentage of the Population for Regions, Divisions, and States: 2000,” 2000 Current Population Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.
  4. “Uncle Sam is AWOL,” Arizona Republic, September 28, 2003.
  5. “Medical Emergency: Costs of Uncompensated Care in Southwest Border Counties,” U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition, September 2002.
  6. Jerry Seper, “Mexican Medics Take Sick to U.S.,” Washington Times, December 12, 2002.
  7. Diana Washington Valdes and Sergio Bustos, “Migrant Care Cost El Paso $30 Million,” El Paso Times, September 26, 2002.
  8. Susan Carroll, “Hospital Warns Migrants to Pay Up,” Arizona Republic, November 29, 2003.
  9. “Phoenix Area Failing to Save Water.” Associated Press, December 15, 2000.
  10. Shaun McKinnon, “Typical Arizonan Uses Less Water Than in '90,” Arizona Republic, March 12, 2004.
  11. “Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000,” Census 2000, U.S. Census Bureau.
  12. “Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 1990,” 1990 Census, U.S. Census Bureau.
  13. Katie Warchut, “Freeways Ease Congestion, But More Crops Up,” Arizona Republic, October 1, 2003.
  14. Judi Villa, “Fire Dept. Mulls Motorcycle Medics,” Arizona Republic, August 25, 2003.
  15. Garry Duffy, “I-10 Gridlock,” Tucson Citizen, February 24, 2004.
  16. “Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000,” Census 2000, U.S. Census Bureau.
  17. “Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 1990,” 1990 Census, U.S. Census Bureau.
  18. Jon Kamman, “3.1 Million More People Likely in Arizona by 2020,” Arizona Republic, January 8, 2002.
  19. Report to the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations on Impacts Caused by Undocumented Aliens Crossing Federal Lands in Southeast Arizona, a joint project by the Immigration & Naturalization Service, the Interior Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency, April 29, 2002.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Mary Jo Pitzl, “Increased Illegal Crossings Strain Organ Pipe to Limit,” Arizona Republic, January 14, 2004.
  22. Catherine Reagor and Bill Hart, “Affordable Housing Scarce in Arizona,” Arizona Republic, April 19, 2002.
  23. Catherine Reagor, “Low Rates Make Buying Easier,” Arizona Republic, March 3, 2002.
  24. “Out of Reach,” National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2003.
  25. Reagor and Hart, op. cit.
  26. “Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000,” Census 2000, U.S. Census Bureau.
  27. “Table DP-1-4, Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 1990,” 1990 Census, U.S. Census Bureau.
  28. Haya El Nasser, “U.S. Neighborhoods Grow More Crowded,” USA Today, July 7, 2002.
  29. Randy Capps, “Hardship Among Children of Immigrants: Findings from the 1999 National Survey of America’s Families,” Urban Institute, 2001.
  30. Joel Eskovitz, “Arizona’s Western, Central Counties See Population Boon,”Associated Press, March 27, 2001.
  31. Robert Nelson, “Clink! Arizona’s Prisons are Packed,” Phoenix New Times, October 23, 2003.
  32. “Arizona State Factsheet,” Migration Information Source, Migration Policy Institute.
  33. “Check Points,” Urban Institute, September 2, 2000.
  34. “Projections of Education Statistics to 2013,” National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
  35. “Districts Ease School Overcrowding with Abandoned Commercial Buildings,” Associated Press, August 2, 2000.
  36. Haya El Nasser, “Schools Forced to Roam in Search of More Room,” USA Today, August 18, 2000.
  37. Stephanie Paterik, “Old West Takes Off-Ramp,” Arizona Republic, December 2003.
  38. “Table 2 — Public School Student/Teacher Ratio, Student Membership, and Teachers, by Level of Instruction and State: School Year 2001-02,” State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey Data 1986-Present, Common Core Data, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
  39. Breaking the Piggy Bank: How Illegal Immigration is Sending Schools Into the Red, Federation for American Immigration Reform, August 2003.
  40. “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: 1990-2000,” Office of Policy Planning, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, January 2003.
  41. Arthur H. Rotstein, “Arizona Desert Deaths Climbing for Illegal Immigrants,” Associated Press, June 27, 2002.
  42. “Arizona Lawmakers Get Earful on Border Issues,” Associated Press, October 31, 2001.
  43. “Social, Financial Costs of Illegal Entry Said High,” Associated Press, May 18, 2001.
  44. “Arizona Lawmakers Get Earful on Border Issues,” Associated Press, October 31, 2001.