Last Updated: July 13, 2021
From San Diego, California in the west to Brownsville, Texas, to the east, the southern border region is one of the most diverse and economically vibrant regions in the country. The southern border has a deeply rich multicultural and indigenous history that predates national boundaries, and its unique wildlife habitats enrich the dynamic landscape home to endangered species like wolves, jaguars, ocelots and pygmy owls. Southern border cities are some of the safest communities in the country. The southern border is a key engine of economic growth; an international trade hub that creates jobs and generates wealth.
This is a deep-dive on the borderlands — a look at the people, the flora and fauna, the economics and more. What you’ll find is that the border is not a line in the sand militarized by unaccountable agents and deadly and dangerous walls.
What we hope you’ll find is that we’re a region of diverse and welcoming people, vibrant culture and a deep binational lifestyle. Our region is a treasure to behold and explore, and an opportunity for the rest of our country to see us for who we are.
U.S. BORDER DEMOGRAPHICS: Vibrant, diverse and binational
About 19 million people live along the southern border with Mexico, according to the U.S. Census Data. And an estimated 11 million people in Mexico live along the border with the U.S., according to the latest INEGI data (see map below). The communities that make up the southern border region are growing, diverse and vibrant. This demographic and economic profile paints a picture of communities in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
The communities that make up the southern border region are growing. The overall population of the southern border region has grown 4.5% points since 2012, slightly faster than the U.S. average of 4.2%.
A majority of the estimated 18.9 million people living in the southern border region live in California (67%), followed by Texas (18%), Arizona (12%) and New Mexico (3%).
A vast majority of people living in the border region are people of color. Half (50%) are Hispanic or Latinx, 4% are Black, one-in-ten (10%) identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander, among others. One-third (33%) of the population is white, compared to the U.S. average of 60%.
Broken down by state, the racial and ethnic demographics of border residents vary further. Eight-in-ten (81%) of Texans living in the border are Hispanic or Latinx. Meanwhile, only 38% of Arizonans who live in the southern border region are Hispanic or Latinx.
The border region is on par with the U.S. average in terms of educational attainment for people ages 25 or older. For both the U.S. and the border region, about four-in-ten residents have a high school degree or less, followed by about three-in-ten who have attained a two-year degree or some college.
However, educational access and attainment vary by border state. Half of Texan adults living in the border region have a high school degree or less, compared to 40% of the U.S. overall. California, on the other hand, has the highest share of border-residents with a college or advanced degree.
The median age among border residents is 37 years old - compared to 39 years old for the U.S. as a whole, making the region slightly younger than the U.S. average.
DACA recipients live in the border region, according to the latest data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Of the estimated 611,470 active DACA recipients, some 145,490 live in the southern border region. Nearly 75,000 Dreamers live in the L.A. metropolitan area, followed by 22,500 in Riverside-San Bernardino; 20,000 in the Phoenix area and nearly 10,000 in the San Diego region.
Immigrant youth are instrumental to our communities — they’re our neighbors, teachers, nurses and doctors. Learn more about Border Dreamers here.
Compared to the U.S. average, border residents are nearly twice as likely to be immigrants. In 2020, 23% of border residents were born in another country, compared to 14% for the U.S. total. Half of all immigrants in the border region are U.S. citizens.
California has the highest share of immigrants in the border region, where a quarter of border residents (23%) were born in another country. In Texas, 21% of border residents are immigrants, followed by 13% of New Mexico residents and 12% in Arizona.
The border region is home to 4.4 million immigrants. Among them, most (67%) speak English proficiently.
There are an estimated 2.7 million Hispanic or Latinx-identifying immigrants living in southern border communities. Similarly, there are about 1.1 million Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigrants that call the southern border home. There are also approximately 443,000 white immigrants, 63,000 black immigrants and 51,000 immigrants who identify as multiracial or mixed race in the southern border.
The graphs below show the top countries of origin for immigrants living in the southern border. Among all immigrants, the top countries of origin are Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru. For the estimated 66,000 Black immigrants living in the southern border, top countries of origin are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Jamaica, and Kenya. In recent years there has been a growing number of Black immigrants and asylum seekers from Africa and the Caribbean who have been arriving to the southern border
In 2020, the border region had a higher unemployment rate compared with the U.S. average (6.23% versus 5.39%).
Among border states, Arizona had the highest unemployment rate at 6.99%, while California had the lowest at 6.07%.
Wealth and poverty vary across the border. Texans living in the border region experienced almost twice the poverty rate than the U.S. average at 22.6%. However, border residents in California faced lower poverty rates in 2018 than the country as a whole (11.3%), highlighting the inequality of some border communities.
Biodiversity of the Border Region
The U.S.-Mexico border is home to six different ecological regions, ranging from desert scrub to grasslands and marshes, which are bisected by the border line and threatened by further wall construction. Defenders of Wildlife have identified five borderland conservation hot-spots among these ecoregions that contain high concentrations of ecological diversity which is threatened by the wall.
The deadly and wasteful border wall has disrupted the natural environment of hundreds of species living along the U.S.-Mexico border by impacting habitats and undermining decades of conservation work. Construction of infrastructure has killed animals directly or has disrupted habitat connectivity, further endangering critical species unique to this region.
Mexican Gray Wolf
Only a few hundred of these endangered wolves are left in the wild in Sonora, Arizona and New Mexico.
peninsular bighorn sheep
The wall will prevent these endangered animals from migrating between the U.S. and Mexico to their watering and birthing sites.
The endangered pronghorn could be severely impacted by a wall, cutting them off from a budding population in the Sonoran desert.
There are an estimated 1,500 animals and close to 500 plant species unique to the borderland region. A continuous border wall would, and is, severely impact(ing) severely impact some animal's ability to access food, water or other resources. Many of the biologically-rich regions in the southern border are home to animal populations that depend on crossing back and forth, according to scientists and environmentalists. These researchers estimate that about 34% of 'nonflying native terrestrial and freshwater animal species' could be cut off by the wall.
Nativelands in the Border Region
The southern border region is a place of lines and boundaries, both natural and artificial, spanning geographies and centuries. Four U.S and ten Mexican states straddle the border, but this region is also home to dozens of indigenous territories and lands that do not conform to modern national or international boundaries. The popular adage -- “we did not cross the border, the border crossed us” -- is especially true for the numerous tribes and indigenous peoples whose land was forcibly colonized and bisected by these boundaries.
There are dozens of unique indigenous territories that overlap in some way with the 100-mile border zone. Some homelands extend across the U.S.-Mexico border -- meaning that the border crosses them and impedes movement and separates peoples. The Tohono O’odham Nation, for example, extends through the Sonoran desert from the U.S. state of Arizona to the Mexican state of Sonora. The Nation was split by the international border in 1853. Now, members of this nation - who live on both sides of the border - must deal with the daily realities and psychological toll of a hyper-militarized border.
Numerous tribes live in the southern border region. Out of the 574 tribes recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, 151 have a presence in a southern border state. There are 107 federally recognized tribes in California, 21 in Arizona, 20 in New Mexico and 3 in Texas. This includes several tribes with lands that cross state boundaries such as the Colorado Indian River tribe that has a presence in California and Arizona. The border––an imaginary demarcation, especially for these binational groups–– has separated some tribe members from their relatives who live in Mexico.
Over 390,000 southern border residents within 100 miles of the border identify as “American Indian or Alaska Native”, according to estimates using U.S. Census data from 2019. Native Americans make up approximately two percent of the total southern border population, while they make up only 1.3 percent of the total U.S. population. The county of Maricopa, Arizona has the greatest number of Native American residents, with over 130,400. La Paz County has the greatest percentage of its population (18.40%) that identifies as part of an Native American group.
Trade and Economic Benefits
The southern border region is a key engine for economic growth. The San Ysidro Port of Entry in Southern California is one of the largest ports of entry in the world, with over 10 million individual crossings yearly. In 2021, $459 billion dollars’ worth of goods were traded by truck along ports in the southern border, highlighting the importance of this region to the national economy.
Trade through Texas represented the vast majority of truck-based trade (74%) between the U.S. and Mexico, totaling more than $400 billion worth of goods traded. Over $72b of goods were traded through California ports of entry in 2021.
Regular Crossing Data at Southern Border
About half a million people cross from Mexico into the United States every day. Many are visitors, but a considerable number are people working or studying in the U.S. For the transfronterizo students, crossing over is a daily, hours-long ritual from home to school. No estimate exists of how many American students live and commute from Mexico. Many moved to Mexican border cities for the lower cost of living, while others were displaced by a parent’s deportation.
In 2021, the largest average daily crossings were in Texas, followed by California, Arizona and New Mexico. However, the busiest crossing is the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego, California where 41.2 million crossings occurred in 2021.