The United States in its second prolonged period of immigration?

Many know that the decades at the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century were a period of significant immigration to the United States. This is regularly taught in history classes and often celebrated. While it can be difficult to understand larger patterns as they are happening, a recent Pew report provides evidence that a second long immigration period is happening now in the United States:

Nearly 14% of the U.S. population was born in another country, numbering more than 44 million people in 2017, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Pew_19.01.31_ForeignBornShare_ImmigrantshareofUS_2

This was the highest share of foreign-born people in the United States since 1910, when immigrants accounted for 14.7% of the American population. The record share was 14.8% in 1890, when 9.2 million immigrants lived in the United States.

Whether the trend line goes up, down, or plateaus remains to be seen (and immigration is a controversial topic at the moment). Still, even if it dropped in the coming years, now would still be part of a longer trend that people and scholars will look back at.

Putting the figures in international context might prove helpful as well:

Even though the U.S. has more immigrants than any other country, the foreign-born share of its population is far from the highest in the world. In 2017, 25 countries and territories had higher shares of foreign-born people than the U.S., according to United Nations data

Worldwide, most people do not move across international borders. In all, only 3.4% of the world’s population lives in a country they were not born in, according to data from the UN. This share has ticked up over time, but marginally so: In 1990, 2.9% of the world’s population did not live in their country of birth.

A number of countries could claim to be a “nation of immigrants” – a common refrain in the United States – though how all of that came to be would certainly differ as would how the immigrants were and are understood.

Latest trend in American immigration involves newcomers from Asia

As the foreign-born population in the United States hits another record high, here is some data on who some of the latest immigrants are:

The share of the United States population that is foreign-born has reached its highest level since 1910, according to government data released last week. But in recent years, the numbers have been soaring not so much with Latin Americans sweeping across the border, but with educated people from Asia obtaining visas — families like the Patels, who have taken advantage of “family reunification” provisions that have been a cornerstone of federal immigration law for half a century…

“The big story here is just the massive misperception about the nature of immigration in the U.S.,” said Edward Alden, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who specializes in immigration policy. “The lion’s share of public attention is focused on what is now a very small number of people coming here illegally and showing up at the border seeking asylum.

“The reality is that a growing percentage of immigrants coming to the U.S. are highly educated, and are exactly the sort of people we want to be attracting.”…

Madeline Hsu, a professor of Asian-American studies at the University of Austin, Texas, said there were only about 12,000 Indian immigrants in the United States in 1960. The foreign-born Indian population last year stood at about 2.6 million, according to the Brookings Institution, and it had risen by almost half since 2010.

To help put the current political debate over immigration in perspective, the broader trends of immigration in the United States could help. From broad-scale immigration from Europe from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s to the restrictions of the 1920s to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, Americans have swung back and forth about how much immigration should occur. The post-1965 era involves a large-scale swing back to more immigration and from non-European locations. Both of these are significant changes, even if it hearkens back to the late 1800s openness to immigration.

With this in mind, it may be easier to simply let the long-term trend of the last five decades continue. It is hard to imagine America today without all of the post-1965 immigrants. At the same time, the country’s history suggests there may be moments when sentiment turns on immigration. Either side of the immigration debate cannot be guaranteed that their perspective will necessarily win out.

This all suggests the issue at hand might be immigration but the larger, deeper issue could be significant social change.

Repealing a suburb’s English language resolution amid demographic change

The Chicago suburb of Carpentersville passed a resolution in 2007 saying English was the official language. The suburb continued to change and now officials have repealed the resolution:

Local officials say the English resolution caused nothing but controversy, and that progress came instead from targeting troublemakers, not Spanish speakers. Now, as one of the most diverse communities in the Chicago area, leaders hope to put the controversy behind them.

There’s also the demographic and political reality that Hispanics now account for slightly more than 50 percent of Carpentersville’s population of about 38,000, up from about 40 percent when the language measure was passed. Whites now make up about a third of the local populace, with most of the rest African- or Asian-American…

Still, it’s a touchy subject. When asked about the change in local law, Village President John Skillman, a lifelong resident, downplayed it. He said village documents and meetings will continue to be in English, and emphasized that the resolution made no concrete changes in the first place…

At the same time, efforts have been made to reach across ethnic boundaries. Last year, in addition to its Fourth of July fireworks, the village held a Mexican Independence Day celebration, and this year, its first Cinco de Mayo festival.

It is a relatively quick turnaround from a set of white candidates running for office and getting enough votes to join the Village Board and passing this resolution (and other measures aimed at undocumented immigrants) to repealing that same resolution eleven years later. At the least, it could suggest there is power of being part of local government: in a suburb of roughly 38,000 people, it may not take much to run for local office and campaign for particular issues. Regardless of what side of a political issue a resident is on, running for local office can make a difference.

The rest of the article hints at ways the suburb has come to terms with an increasing Latino population: Latino businesses in town, addressing gang activity, local festivals, and whether residents experienced discrimination. But, there is a lot more that could be addressed here. Did such a resolution significantly change day to day life? (The article suggests no.) How much do white, Latino, and black residents interact and participate in each other’s social networks? How does this play out in certain civic institutions like schools, religious groups, and community organizations? Resolutions or ordinances can certainly have a symbolic effect but there are a number of layers to community life and interactions in a suburb like Carpentersville.

(Side note: this is an apropos follow-up to yesterday’s post about how many Americans speak a language other than English at home. This affects more than just home life.)

20% of Americans speak a language other than English at home

Occasionally, statistics about the United States stand out. Here is one I recently saw involving language as reported by the AP:

In the United States, one in five people age 5 and over speak a language other than English at home, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In immigrant-friendly Los Angeles, more than half of people do.

This is likely linked to relatively high levels of immigration in recent decades (and projections for more foreign-born residents in years to come). Pew summarizes the trend:

There were a record 43.2 million immigrants living in the U.S. in 2015, making up 13.4% of the nation’s population. This represents more than a fourfold increase since 1960, when only 9.7 million immigrants lived in the U.S., accounting for just 5.4% of the total U.S. population…

PewForeignBornPopulation

And by far, the language other than English spoken most at home is Spanish.

Visualizing immigration to the United States

Here are three interesting visualization options – an animated map and two infographics – to see immigration to the United States. Three quick thoughts:

  1. The map really does help illustrate the various stages of immigration. It starts from Western Europe, moves significantly to Eastern Europe in the late 1800s, and then opens to Mexico, east Asia, and other parts of the globe in the 1960s.
  2. It is unfortunate that the arrivals from Asia have to go over the “break” in the map since it has the Atlantic in the center. At first, I couldn’t figure out where the dots coming into the United States from the left were coming from.
  3. The second infographic provides some proportional context: even with the jump in migrants from Mexico, they represent a smaller proportion of the total U.S. population than the immigration spikes in the 1800s.

Connecting big drops in homicide rates and race and ethnicity

A new sociological study finds that homicide rates across different racial and ethnic groups have fallen:

The study revealed that three of the most significant social trends over the past 20 years — mass incarceration, rapid immigration and growing wealth inequality — all contributed to the reduction in the gaps between the white homicide victimization rate and those for blacks and Hispanics.

As a result, the black-white homicide victimization rate gap decreased by 40 percent, the Hispanic-white gap dropped by 55 percent and the black-Hispanic gap shrunk by 35 percent, according to the study to be published Thursday in the April issue of the American Sociological Review…

In fact, the study found that an influx of immigrants actually decreases homicides. “People who decide to come here are not people with strong tendencies toward violent crime,” Light said. “They are coming here for educational opportunities, employment opportunities and opportunities to help their families.”…

The study also showed that the increasing racial/ethnic disparities in incarceration rates were associated with significant reductions in black-white and black-Hispanic homicide victimization rate gaps. However, the authors were quick to caution against drawing the conclusion that even more incarceration would produce even more benefits because the findings have to be viewed in a larger context.

There are several matters of public perception that this study seems to address. Many are not aware of these declines and instead think crime has risen (see earlier posts here and here). Or, how about the data on immigration on crime where higher rates of immigration lead to lower homicide rates? Or, the roughly 35-40 percent decrease in the homicide rates for whites, blacks, and Latinos?

Thinking more broadly, what would it actually take for the American public to change their perceptions about crime? Could this sociology study help convince average Americans that violent crime rates have significantly dropped in recent decades? Would the media have to stop highlighting violent crime? Would the entertainment industry (movies, TV, video games, books, etc.) have to become less violent? Thinking about this particular study, perhaps positive changes to race relations would help…

Chicago’s population decline masked by Mexican immigration

Amid news that the Chicago region led the country in population loss during 2015 comes this reminder of how Chicago has bolstered its population in recent decades:

More than any other city, Chicago has depended on Mexican immigrants to balance the sluggish growth of its native-born population, said Rob Paral, a Chicago-based demographer who advises nonprofits and community groups. During the 1990s, immigration accounted for most of Chicago’s population growth. The number of Mexican immigrants rose by 117,000 in Chicago that decade, making up 105 percent of all growth, according to data gathered by Paral’s firm, Rob Paral and Associates.

After 2007, falling Mexican-born populations became a trend across the country’s major metropolitan areas. But most of those cities were able to make up for the loss with the growth of their native populations, Paral said. Chicago couldn’t.

Chicago is often held up as a shining example of a Rust Belt city that survived and thrived – but this may have had less to do with grand building projects or powerful mayors or a prominent international presence and more with continuing to be a center for immigration.

The influential 1965 Immigration Act

The current position of the United States regarding immigrants was heavily influenced by the 1965 Immigration Act:

A new Pew Research Center report finds that the 1965 Immigration Act was largely responsible for bringing 59 million immigrants into the American population between then and 2015. These new arrivals, their kids, and their grandkids make up over half of the total U.S. population growth during this period. Looking ahead to 2065, immigrants that came to America as a result of this law, plus their families, will account for almost 90 percent of the nation’s population increase from now to then…

The Immigration Act of 1924 clamped down on immigration from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Western and Southern Europe. Here’s Stephen Klineberg, a sociologist at Rice University, commenting on the explicit racism of the policy, via NPR:

“It declared that Northern Europeans are a superior subspecies of the white race. The Nordics were superior to the Alpines, who in turn were superior to the Mediterraneans, and all of them were superior to the Jews and the Asians.”

The 1965 law re-wrote that policy, and since then America’s white population share has declined from 84 percent at the time to 62 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, the Hispanic population share grew from 4 to 18 percent, and Asians rose from less than 1 percent to 6 percent (below, left). If President Johnson hadn’t signed the 1965 law, America would be 75 percent white today…

Quite a long-lasting impact for a piece of legislation that still doesn’t seem to get much attention today. And, as the article notes, it may not have been easy to know the impact of the Act at the time even as its effect from the vantage point of today looks significant. If supporters or opponents of immigration want to support or change policy, this is a place to start (though there have been changes made since then).

Also noted: much of the population increase in the United States in recent decades is due to immigration. Otherwise, the fate of the country looks more like many other industrialized nations with low birth rates and an aging population.

Houston as world’s fourth most popular refugee resettlement country

While most immigration policy debates take place at the national level, large cities are also involved:

Out of every 1,000 resettled U.N. refugees, more than 700 come to America. Though all 50 states accept some refugees, 75 of those 700 find their way to Texas, according to U.S. State Department numbers. And more of those will come to the Houston area than to anywhere else in Texas: The state health services department reports that nearly 40 percent of Texas’ refugees land in Harris County.

This means that Harris County alone welcomes about 30 of every 1,000 refugees that the U.N. resettles anywhere in the world — more than any other American city, and more than most other nations. If Houston were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for refugee resettlement…

In fact, Al Sudani said, some cold American cities host enormous groups of warm-region natives. Nearly 45,000 Iraqis live in Detroit and other parts of Michigan — more than in any other state, according to Census Bureau data assembled by the Migration Policy Institute. More East Africans live in Minnesota than in Texas; Minneapolis-St. Paul has a massive Somali population. “People, they adjust really quickly to their environment,” Al Sudani said…

The single most important factor in Houston’s ability to absorb all of the new refugee arrivals appears to be its vibrant, growing economy. “The focus of refugee resettlement in the United States is early employment,” said Sara Kauffman, Houston area director for Refugee Services of Texas. “We have a pretty fast economy, a lot of jobs available. People can get started working pretty quickly.” One of her clients found himself a job at a car dealership within two weeks of arriving.

Houston doesn’t often draw much discussion as a global city but this would suggest it is an important player in the 21st century world. Indeed, it might be the quintessential American city today.

Tracking the transformation of Houston’s population in recent years would make for a fascinating long-term study: oil capital transforms into cosmopolitan center. There is already some good sociological work on this and it is worth tracking. It may be out there but I haven’t yet seen work on how Houston residents are adjusting to these changes. Perhaps as long as the economy keeps growing, there aren’t many issues…

Guatemalan McMansions built with remittances

There may be McMansions built in Guatemala with remittance funds but they require a lot of resources:

The paradoxical strength of Guatemalan migrants’ transnational dreams is nowhere more evident than in the clash between these McMansions — often decorated in red, white and blue — and below-subsistence everyday life in largely indigenous areas like Cabricán…

The remittances they send have increased nearly sevenfold since 2001, according to the International Organization for Migration. The money is projected to reach a record $5.9 billion this year, according to the Banco de Guatemala – over 10 percent of the country’s GDP…

Worse, many experts argue that big houses — unattainable with quetzales, the Guatemalan currency — are risky investments for remittance dollars, too, especially since most migrants already used what little assets they have — land and their existing homes — as collateral for the large loans necessary to pay smugglers’ fees.

A home like the one built from the money sent by the Rojas children’s in San Antonio costs around 500,000 quetzales ($64,000) to build there.

Critics of McMansions might note that such homes in Guatemala reflect the illusory nature of all McMansions: lots of space and an impressive facade but difficult to sustain in the long run with what they cost to build and maintain (and how that money might be better spent elsewhere) and their dubious quality. The Guatemalan McMansions illustrate the downsides of globalization where cultural tastes and spending habits (big homes, lots of features) may cross borders but not all the potential consumers are able to realistically purchase the goods they see.

At the same time, given the cheaper costs for such homes in Guatemala, how long before we see HGTV featuring American retirees looking at McMansion neighborhoods in Guatemala as they try to escape higher costs in the US but still want the private home of the American Dream?