Politics

Africans, Asians Make Up Changing Face of U.S. Immigration

Census data show drop in Mexican-born population in United States for the third consecutive year

The number of U.S. residents who were born in Mexico declined for the third consecutive year in 2016, continuing a decade-long transformation in the face of immigration, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bureau’s annual American Community Survey, released last week, show that there were 11.6 million Mexican-born U.S. residents last year. That was down 0.5 percent from 2015. Since 2006, net immigration from Mexico largely has leveled off, growing by just 1.6 percent.

Meanwhile, immigration surged from Asia and Africa during that period. The 13.3 million Asian-born residents now make up 30.8 percent of all foreign-born residents, leapfrogging over Mexico. Immigrants from Asia have increased by 33.9 percent since 2006. Over the same period, the African-born population in the United States increased 55.7 percent, to 4.9 million.

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“There’s just no question that the sending regions have changed,” said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Immigration from Europe and Canada also continues to decline, in real numbers and as a share of the foreign-born population. Last year, there were 4.8 million residents who were born in Europe. That is down 4.2 percent since 2006. The number of U.S. residents born in what the Census Bureau calls “northern America” — Canada, Bermuda, Greenland and St. Pierre and Miquelon — declined 7.6 percent over that time, to 838,476.

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Camarota said the decline is partially due to a decline in the number of young Europeans who would be more likely to immigrate, and good economic opportunities in their home countries.

“There’s just so much less reason to come,” he said.

There are a number of reasons for the changes, explained Camarota. Immigration from Mexico, both legal and illegal, has slowed. At the same time, he added, a higher-than-typical number of Mexicans returned home following the Great Recession due to worse economic prospects in America and improved ones in their home country.

He also attributed part of the decline in immigration to the dimming prospects of a general amnesty since the 2014 defeat of a comprehensive immigration reform initiative in Congress.

A final factor is rising deaths. Camarota said that number has increased as the Mexican-born population ages. He said about 487,000 Mexican immigrants have died since 2000.

“It’s not a trivial number anymore,” he said.

[lz_table title=”Changing Face of Immigration” source=”Census Bureau”]Share of Foreign-Born Population
|Region,2006,2016
Europe,13.3%,10.9%
Africa,3.7%,4.9%
Northern America*,2.3%,1.8%
Asia,26.8%,30.8%
Mexico,30.3%,26.5%
Other Lat. America,22.8%,24.5%
All other regions,1.2%,.6%
|
* Canada and four other areas
[/lz_table]

Matt O’Brien, director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, expressed skepticism that the Mexican-born population in the United States truly has declined. He noted that the statistics come from a survey conducted by the government. The numbers include all foreign-born residents, legal and illegal.

Illegal immigrants are less likely to participate, he said. Since Mexicans make up a disproportionate share of the foreign-born population, he said, that skews the statistics.

“We don’t track exits … and, of course, if you’re an illegal immigrant, no one tracks you coming or going,” said O’Brien.

To the extent that Mexican migration has declined, he said, it could be partially due to increased drug cartel violence in Mexico. That violence has occurred east-to-west parallel to the border, he said.

O’Brien noted that the nature of the recession also has played a role, killing jobs in occupations dominated by immigrants from Latin America.

“The industries that Mexicans historically worked in, like construction, were the hardest hit,” he said.

Camarota said immigration from Asia and Africa has taken off for two main reasons — an increase in refugees and “chain migration.” U.S. law allows green card holders to sponsor their immediate relatives for U.S. residency, and citizens can sponsor extended families.

In past decades, the immigration totals from Asia and Africa were too small to matter, he said. But once they reached a critical mass, it triggered an acceleration.

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“It builds on itself … Refugee resettlement has really goosed the numbers,” Camarota said.

Given the shift away from Mexico — where immigrants tend to be worse-educated — to better-educated immigrants from Asia and Africa, one might have expected the gap between native-born Americans and immigrants to narrow. But the median household income of immigrants last year was $53,755, compared with $58,402 for the native-born. That is roughly same gap as a decade ago.

Camarota called this is a puzzle since the educational profile of immigrants has improved dramatically.

“For whatever reason, the better-educated immigrants … are not doing much better,” he said.

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