These migrants arrive with complex asylum claims and, because of bureaucratic and diplomatic obstacles, are among the most difficult to deport when they don’t qualify for protection. Many are released into the United States with a pending court date that may be years away.

Some migrants say they could be killed if sent home. Many risked their lives crossing oceans or jungles to reach the border in search of a better life. The legal basis for an asylum claim is a flight from persecution, not a yearning for American prosperity.

Immigration judges are churning out decisions at a record clip. Still, decisions about sensitive cases involving violence and persecution tend to take years. That means many of the new immigrants are living in a state of long-term limbo, even as they become more enmeshed in the fabric of American life.

Economists say the migrants have helped America’s post-covid-shutdown economy to be one of the strongest in the world. But the United States remains tangled in a bitter debate over the costs and benefits of these new arrivals, which has been amplified by this year’s presidential campaign.

Biden border restrictions to curb asylum claims after former president and presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump rallied Republicans to defeat a bipartisan bill that would have expanded immigration enforcement. Trump blames Biden for inviting mass migration, and he is pledging to close the border and deploy U.S. troops to carry out deportations if he’s elected in November.

Where people have settled

Unlike the immigrants of the late 1800s and early 1900s who arrived at Ellis Island on transatlantic steam ships, the journey today often unfolds in two phases. One is the physical challenge of reaching U.S. territory. A second, longer odyssey follows in the U.S. immigration court system, which must sort out who is allowed to stay.

The Post’s analysis of U.S. immigration court data shows that about 3 million migrants who have arrived since 2014 have active cases. More than 3 in 5 have entered the United States since 2021, the year Biden took office.

Their legal status in America remains unresolved, but they are already building lives: Many are taking low-wage jobs, sending children to school and relocating to communities across the United States that have not been traditional immigrant destinations.

Migrant arrivals since 2014, according to court data

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Court filings show the newest immigrants are settling across rural and urban America. They and other arrivals have pushed the share of the U.S. population that is foreign-born to nearly 14 percent, the in more than a century. New immigrant hubs have formed around jobs in meatpacking, agriculture and petroleum.

Some of the biggest growth areas are in Florida and Texas, where the immigrant population continues to expand thanks to plentiful jobs and cheaper housing — and despite immigration crackdowns by Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott.

The growth is uneven. , and — states with — attracted hardly any of the newcomers, while New York, Chicago and Denver have received thousands as Abbott has bused more from the border to those cities. California, a traditional destination, is also home to large numbers of new arrivals.

Immigrant hubs by nationality

Migrants have long chosen to settle with family and friends in the United States. Some arrive with a relative’s phone number scrawled on their hand. Many newer arrivals have few contacts, however, and end up in city shelters.

A map showing immigrant hubs by nationality

Guatemalans and Hondurans have been crossing the U.S. southern border for many years, fleeing violence, drought and hunger. Like the Mexican immigrants facing deportation, they are widely distributed across urban and rural areas, with fast-growing communities in Western and Southern U.S. states.

Maps showing immigration court population by country of origin since 2014

Venezuelans became a top group entering the United States for the first time under the Biden administration, a surge that has demonstrated how rapidly migration can change. New enclaves of Venezuelan migrants have formed in places such as Salt Lake City, Denver and Dallas. If Maduro extends his rule during next month’s election, he could trigger another mass exodus.

Migration from El Salvador has fallen in recent years under President Nayib Bukele, who has generated both accolades and criticism for an iron-fisted anti-gang campaign. El Salvador has gone from one of Latin America’s most dangerous countries to one of its safest, and far fewer Salvadorans are leaving.

Maps showing immigration court population by country of origin since 2014

Cuban migration to the United States has been at record levels because of the country’s tanking economy and long-standing U.S. penalties that tightened under Trump. Cubans enjoy special privileges under U.S. law, and roughly 5 percent of the island’s population has crossed into the United States since 2021. Louisville, Las Vegas and Houston are new destinations for Cubans, court filings show.

Turmoil in Haiti has sent more people fleeing — and made U.S. deportations to Haiti more controversial. Many of the Haitians who have surged to the United States have arrived from Chile or other South American nations where they found refuge after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. They risk deportation to a place they left years ago. Haitian communities in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Florida have expanded in recent years, the data shows.

Immigration court cases have jumped for others from Latin America, including Colombians, Brazilians, Peruvians and Ecuadorians, the latter fleeing new waves of drug-fueled gang violence. Those groups are concentrating in New York, Florida and the Midwest.

During the past two years, U.S. border authorities have apprehended more migrants from Africa and Asia than ever before. Guided by smuggling organizations, these groups often arrive to South America then head north to follow the dangerous Darién Gap jungle route between Colombia and Panama, eventually reaching the U.S.-Mexico border.

About 50,000 Chinese migrants have crossed into the United States along the Mexico border since 2023. Court data shows many of the most recent migrants are settling in Queens or Los Angeles’s Monterey Park area. Migrants from India are streaming to California. Russians, many of whom say they’re fleeing the war on Ukraine and forced conscription, are going to New York, Sacramento and Los Angeles.

About this story

The Washington Post used immigration court case through May 2024 released by the Justice Department. Reporters limited their analysis to cases with entry dates since the start of 2014, omitting all cases missing entry dates. Although migrants may have multiple cases of entry over the decade, each person is only counted once. And although the overall analysis figures include detainees currently in government custody, the maps of where migrants have settled do not.

The data does not specify how every migrant entered the United States, but an analysis of charges and reporting on the topic revealed that most migrants entered through the southern border of the United States.

The Justice Department agency that runs the immigration courts, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, started releasing the data monthly to the public after receiving requests from the at Syracuse University, which publishes the information.

Kevin Schaul contributed to this report. Graphics editing by Kevin Uhrmacher. Data editing by Meghan Hoyer. Design by Stephanie Hays. Design editing by Madison Walls. Editing by Efrain Hernandez Jr., Debbi Wilgoren and Kainaz Amaria. Copy editing by Jeremy Hester.