Winter 2008
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A Tale of Two Countries | Protect us from the criminal element | Save lives. Then talk.
Make citizenship accessible to those who contribute. | Create laws that are fair and concise.
Develop a work-based, binational agreement. | Open the door to those already here. | Get the facts.

The arrival of newcomers to the United States touches every aspect of society – politics, economics, culture, social relations – and therefore must be viewed in a context that transcends the simple dichotomies of liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican.

By Jessica Lavariega Monforti, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, political science

Who are immigrants today? Where do they come from? Where do they settle? What might immigration changes mean for the U.S. in the longer term?

More than 34 million of the 300 million people in the U.S. were born in another country. About 6 million arrived since 2000, 59 percent of them from Latin America, 23 percent from Asia, and 12 percent from Europe. This is a significant departure from previous trends. Before 1970, 41 percent of immigrants entering the United States came from Europe.

Slightly more than 1.1 million immigrants arrive each year. About 700,000 are legal permanent residents, with family-based admissions accounting for almost three-quarters of this number. Refugees and other humanitarian admissions add another 100,000-150,000 each year. Undocumented immigration contributes 200,000-300,000 net additions annually, less than 30 percent of the immigrant flow. Thus, we see a change in the number of immigrants coming to the United States, as well as changes in the demography of the newly arrived.

Historically, immigrants in the United States have been concentrated in just a few states. Beginning in the 1990s, however, the fastest growth in the foreign-born population was in the Southeast, the Midwest and Appalachia. Between 1990 and 1999, the foreign-born populations of New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Florida – the six largest immigrant-receiving states since 1980 – grew on average by 30 percent. At the same time, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Arkansas saw their foreign-born populations grow an incredible 126 percent. While the traditional immigrant-receiving states still have the largest number of immigrants, small towns across America are confronting the challenge of dealing justly and creatively with new immigrant populations.

In the end, what do these trends mean? First, we will see a shift in the ethnic and racial composition of the country. Second, immigration may alter the movement of native workers into and out of high-immigration areas. Third, there is no strong evidence that immigration reduces available jobs or lowers wages, although immigrants may limit the employment opportunities of other low-skill workers, especially in areas where the local economy is weak and immigrants are concentrated. New immigrants do appear to weaken the labor market for the immigrants who immediately preceded them.

Overall, immigrants contribute substantially to the U.S. economy. They create more jobs than they themselves fill. They do so directly by starting new businesses and indirectly through their expenditures on goods and services.

Jessica Lavariega Monforti is a political science assistant professor the associate director for research with Center for Civic Literacy. Her specialities are public policy analysis, race and politics and survey research. Contact her at

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