US census data reveals 16% immigration increase in 5 years

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Immigrants living in U.S. households increased by 16%, to a current total of 35.7 million foreign-born residents in the United States. The dramatic increase is from 2000 to 2005, with many newcomers moving to states that traditionally have not had many immigrants.

The U.S. Census Bureau this week released preliminary data on the most comprehensive survey of immigration in the United States ever performed. More than 3 million households were surveyed, with tens of thousands of interviews by phone and in person. The data is expected to be the most definitive and precise generated to date. The population data released provides the first large-scale glimpse of how U.S. communities of 65,000 and larger have changed since the turn of the century.

Along with the increase in the overall number of immigrants, the survey found an increase in the numbers who are not U.S. citizens, estimated to be 2.4 million more since 2000. The survey did not try to distinguish between non-citizens in the country legally, like students or guest workers, and those who are in the country illegally.

Among the many trends immediately noted, immigrants increasingly are bypassing the traditional gateway states like California and New York. They are settling directly in parts of the country that, until recently, saw little immigrant activity, such as regions like the Upper Midwest, New England and the Rocky Mountain states.

Coming in the heart of an election season in which illegal immigration has emerged as an issue, the new data from the bureau's 2005 American Community Survey is certain to generate more debate. But more than that, demographers said, it highlights one reason immigration has become such a heated topic.

"What's happening now is that immigrants are showing up in many more communities all across the country than they have ever been in," said Audrey Singer, an immigration fellow at the Brookings Institution, a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C. "So it's easy for people to look around and not just see them, but feel the impact they're having in their communities. And a lot of these are communities that are not accustomed to seeing immigrants in their schools, at the workplace, in their hospitals."

"There's been a very sharp spreading-out," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution "What we saw as the tip of the iceberg in the 2000 census has come into its own. What we see now is a dispersion of new minorities to new destinations."

By a wide margin, the largest numbers of immigrants continue to live in the six states that have traditionally attracted them, specifically California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey and Illinois. Immigrants also continue to flow into a handful of states in the Southeast, like Georgia and North Carolina, a trend that was discerned in the 2000 census.

However, less-expected immigrant destinations are turning up very interest data.

Indiana saw a 34% increase in the number of immigrants; South Dakota saw a 44% rise; Delaware 32%; Missouri 31%; Colorado 28%; New Hampshire 26%.

"It's the continuation of a pattern that we first began to see 10 or 15 years ago," said Jeff Passel, senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center, who has examined the new census data. "But instead of being confined to areas like the Southeast, it's beginning to spill over into some Midwestern states, like Indiana and Ohio. It's even moving up into New England."

Overall, immigrants now make up 12.4% of the nation's population, up from 11.2% in 2000. That amounts to an estimated 4.9 million additional immigrants for a total of 35.7 million, a number larger than the population of California.

Georgia and North Carolina, states that had already seen significant increases in their immigrant population in the 1990s, continue to see rising numbers. In Georgia, for instance, foreign-born residents accounted for 7.2% of the state's population in 2000, but 9% in 2005.

"We've been getting very diverse down here," said Judy Hadley, statistical research analyst for Georgia's Office of Planning and Budget. "You name any country, and we've got it."

The survey is intended as an annual bolster to the bureau's constitutionally mandated census of the country's population every 10 years. It began as a test program in 1996 and has gradually expanded to where it can provide detailed data for nearly 7,000 geographic areas, including all congressional districts and counties or cities of 65,000 or more. In coming months, more data from the survey will cover income, poverty and housing.

The survey also found shifts in the composition of the nation's immigrant population. More of America's immigrants, come from Mexico than any other country, an estimated 27.5 million in 2005, compared to 10.4 million Chinese and 5.8 million Indians.

Conversely, the percentage of immigrants who were born in European countries has dropped sharply, down 29.4% in the last five years because immigrants who came to the United States in the mid-20th century are now dying. Since their children tend to be U.S. citizens, they don't appear in this data set.

A study of this data by Passel for the Pew Hispanic Center showed that while 58% of the immigrants who arrived in the United States since 2000 settled in five of the traditional gateway states, 24% settled in nine second-tier states (including Georgia, Massachusetts and Washington) and 11% found homes in 11 third-tier states, many of which have seen little immigration before (stretching from Connecticut to Minnesota to Nevada).

While many of those first- and second-tier states saw the largest numbers of new arrivals from Mexico, Passel found, it was some of the third-tier states that saw the largest percentage increases: Alabama, South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Two decades ago 75% to 80% of new immigrants settled in one of the six gateway states and tended to stay there. In the past 10 to 15 years, the pattern shifted and increasing numbers entered the gateways briefly, then moved elsewhere in the country. Now the pattern is that more immigrants are simply bypassing the gateway states altogether.

"The biggest thing that drives immigration to specific destinations is that the immigrant already knows someone who is living there," Camarota said.


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