Proportion of Immigrants In U.S. Highest in 150 Years     

Daily Policy Digest

Immigration Issues / Immigrant Profiles

Wednesday, June 05, 2002  
The United States is accepting immigrants at a faster rate than at any time since the 1850s, according to 2000 census data. Supporters of stricter limits on immigration say the figures indicate the challenge of integrating tens of millions of newcomers into American society -- challenges that will only grow if current policies remain in place.

Immigration supporters say that the 1990s prove the success of American immigration policies, and because the country attracts immigrants at all levels it helps the U.S. maintain its economic, political and cultural edge.

Nearly 52 percent of immigrants come from Latin American countries, and they are less skilled than previous waves of immigrants from Europe and Asia.

The 31.3 million foreign-born U.S. residents counted in the 2000 census amounted to 11.3 million more than were tallied in 1990.

They comprise 11.1 percent of the U.S. population -- or one in every nine residents.
In addition to the 51.7 percent of immigrants living in the U.S. in 2000 who were from Latin America, 26.4 percent were Asiatics, 15.8 percent from Europe, 2.8 percent from Africa, 2.7 percent from Canada and 0.5 percent from Oceania. The overall percentage of foreign-born who have become citizens -- 40.3 percent -- is about the same as previous cohorts. Immigration supporters say this shows that new immigrants are just as interested as becoming part of the political process and in being productive members of their community.

Source: Stephen Dinan, "Immigration Growth of '90s at Highest Rate in 150 Years," Washington Times, June 5, 2002.

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Immigration growth at highest rate in 150 years
By Stephen Dinan

   The United States is accepting immigrants at a faster rate than at any other time since the 1850s, according to Census 2000 figures released yesterday.

   The 31.3 million foreign-born residents represent 11.3 million more than in the 1990 census a 57 percent increase and they now account for 11.1 percent of the nation's population, or one in nine residents. That proportion is higher than at any other time since the 1930 census, when immigrants made up 11.7 percent of the population.
   "Whatever one thinks of current policy, the numbers released today by the Census Bureau indicate that the nation faces enormous challenges in integrating the tens of millions of immigrants allowed into the country, and those challenges will only grow if current policies are allowed to remain in place," said Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.
   But advocates say the 1990s prove the success story of American immigration.
   "While Europe finds itself engulfed in a spasm of xenophobia, America should take heart that we attract immigrants at all levels, which helps America maintain its cutting edge economically, politically and culturally," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "No wonder we stand alone as the pre-eminent nation in the world."
   In terms of the public-policy debate, the most important number may be the growth rate of the foreign-born population from 7.9 percent in 1990 to 11.1 percent in 2000 the fastest in 150 years.
   Although more immigrants arrived in the United States in the 1990s than lived in the country in 1970, immigration supporters said the current percentage of foreign-born residents fell well short of the historical peak of 1890, when 14.8 percent of the population was made up of immigrants.
   Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, said the nation's strong economic growth during that period "proves economic prosperity and generous immigration policy can coexist."
   "The restrictionists from Pat Buchanan on the right to some of the environmentalists on the left who predicted dire consequences to increased immigration were clearly dead wrong in their assessments," he said.
   Immigration advocates said the overall percentage of foreign-born who have become citizens 40.3 percent is about the same, showing that new immigrants are just as interested in becoming part of the political process and in being productive members of their community.
   One big shift is in immigrants' birthplaces. For the first time, those born in Latin America make up more than half of immigrants in the United States, at 51.7 percent. Latinos made up 44.3 percent of the foreign-born population 10 years ago, one-third in 1980 and in fewer than one in five in 1970.
   Through 1970, Europeans were made a majority of immigrants. Their numbers have fallen steadily, to 15.8 percent in 2000. They now trail those from Latin America and those born in Asia, who make up 26.4 percent of the foreign-born population.
   Mr. Moore said loss of diversity in immigrants is problematic.
   "I think immigrants generally are very good, even if they're low-skilled," he said. "However, there's no question high-skilled immigrants are better [for the economy,] and no question Latino immigrants tend to be less-skilled than European and Asian immigrants."
   In the Washington-Baltimore region, foreign-born make up 12.9 percent of the population slightly more than the percentage nationwide but far below other metropolitan areas.
   More than 40 percent of the population in Miami's region is foreign-born, and 31 percent of Los Angeles is foreign-born.
   The District ranks 8th when compared with states, with 12.9 percent of its population foreign-born.
   Maryland ranks 15th and Virginia ranks 19th.