Immigrant population is settling in new places


The number of immigrants living in U.S. households rose 16 percent over the past five years, fueled largely by arrivals from Mexico, according to fresh data released by the Census Bureau.

And increasingly, immigrants are bypassing traditional gateway states and settling directly in parts of the country that until recently saw few immigrants - 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 are certain to generate more debate. But more than that, demographers said, they highlight one reason immigration has become such a heated topic.

"What's happening now is that immigrants are showing up in many more communities ... than they have ever been in," said Audrey Singer, an immigration fellow at the Brookings Institution. "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."

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

But it is in the less-expected immigrant destinations that demographers find of the most interest.

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

"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.

Overall, immigrants now make up 12.4 percent of the nation's population, up from 11.2 percent 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.

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

Immigration was just one of the areas covered by the first release of data from the American Community Survey, which also covered such demographic information as race, age, education and marital status.

The survey detected a significant jump in the number of Americans over age 25 who hold a bachelors degree or higher - 27.2 percent of that population in 2005 compared to 24.4 percent in 2000.

In 1940, only 4.6 percent of Americans held a bachelor's degree.

The survey found that the percentage of Americans who are 65 or over is shrinking, from 12.6 percent of the population in 1990 to 12.4 percent in 2000 and 12.1 percent in 2005.

Partly, this is driven by the huge influx in immigrants, who tend to be of working age or younger. But demographers caution against seeing this as a long-term trend.

"It's more like the lull before the storm," said William H. Frey, of the Brookings Institution. "Before long, the baby boomers are going to start getting into that age group in large numbers and the percentage will shoot up."

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