by guest contributor, Peter Fugiel, Ph.D.

Legal Immigration Rate Held Steady during the Recession

U.S. population to reach 420 million mid-century; 600 million possible by 2100?

It is seldom that the sheer metrics of a trend are too big to comprehend. While everyone understands and can have an emotional response to illegal immigration, we have no easy reference points concerning the huge legal immigration numbers being projected by the U.S. Census Bureau for this century. After all, what does it mean to say that more than a million people are coming into the country – every year? And do we really comprehend that the Census projects that by 2050, the annual increase in new arrivals will double to two million immigrants a year?

Put in the most practical terms, between 2010 and 2030, the Census projects that the net gain in natural increase will be roughly equal to the one million immigration numbers. Between 2030 and 2050, two thirds of the annual two million plus increase will be due to immigration alone. This is a trend that keeps increasing over time and the numbers are very large. Is anyone noticing – much less debating – the consequences of this policy?

The major reason why the 20 largest states have grown as rapidly in the past 30 years is due to immigration.

What is so amazing about legal immigration is that a large majority of immigrants are entitled to green cards because of their relationship to American citizens. Less than a third of current immigrants receive green cards due to their employment or refugee status, while the clear majority of legal immigrants are either relatives or are married to U.S. citizens.

Source of Legal Immigration Has Grown Much More Diverse

Four nations are at the seven percent annual cap for any one country’s immigrants.

Because so many illegal immigrants have come from Mexico, and because that number had been growing so rapidly during the real estate boom, the impression most Americans now have of immigration is that it is dominated by one just nation: Mexico. That is not so, and has been less true every year since the beginning of this new century. The largest blocks of immigrants that comprise the 6.5 million immigrants who became citizens in the past decade were as follows:

India & China   893,000
Central & South America   789,000
Mexico   784,000
Caribbean   722,000
Philippines/Vietnam   646,000
Other 2,400,000

Perhaps the most striking aspect of legal immigration in this country is this: a handful of countries are, in fact, already capped in terms of the number of annual green cards that can be awarded the nationals of any one country. The countries that are currently capped are Mexico, China, the Philippines, and India. The estimated wait for a green card for Mexican immigrants is over ten years, and that may explain why there are as many illegal Mexican immigrants in the country. Some experts have claimed that a high percentage of illegal Mexicans are persons entitled to receive a green card, but who are foiled by the unusually long wait period.

There currently is bi-partisan legislation pending in Congress which will allow all four nations a higher amount of immigration, using a first-come-first-served formula for the awarding of green cards. The seven percent cap would be removed and it is likely that professionals already in the country from China and India will replace less motivated immigrants from countries in Africa and Central America. Mexican immigration likely would increase as well.

Immigration is Drastically Affecting Overall U.S. Growth Rates

The U.S. population is projected to double in this century.

It took this country 230 years to gain its first 100 million residents, which was in 1920. But it took the country only fifty years to add another hundred million people in1970. That was right after the national immigration quotas were scrapped. By 2007, due in part to a one-time amnesty, the country’s population had soared to the 300-million mark. Without more severe immigration caps, immigration has increased from a much wider range of countries, stretching from the Far East to Africa, and to all of the Americas. During the past decade, 119,000 Haitians, 168,000 Cubans, 117,000 Iranians, 98,000 Ukrainians, 85,000 Canadians, 114,000 Koreans, and 89,000 Russians immigrated to the U.S.

The myth that immigrants to the U.S. are the proverbial penniless refugees is increasingly less true than at any time in the past. Many of the newest immigrants are college-educated, with some household wealth, and many quickly set up small businesses in existing immigrant communities. While some of the largest U.S. metro areas still receive gigantic numbers of various nationalities, other communities in the various states “specialize” in certain nationals. Affluent Iranians for example settle in Los Angeles. Many Muslims have moved to Michigan. It is Jamaicans – not Mexicans – who settle in New York. Cubans, who have long had special immigration status, are moving in large numbers to central Florida (away from the coast.) There is a whole new cohort of Polish tradesmen holding non-union jobs in the Chicago suburbs.

State-by-State Differences in Immigration Are the Big Political Story

Seventy-five percent of immigrants settle in the 12 largest states, causing major population increases.

The major reason why the 20 largest states have grown as rapidly in the past 30 years is due to immigration. In fact, 75 percent of all immigrants settle in the largest dozen states. While some states, like Florida and Texas, are growing due to both internal migration and immigration, most of the largest states rely upon immigration to maintain their mega-state status. California experienced an out-migration of nearly two million people in the past decade; still, the state grew by several million people due to two million immigrants and higher birth rates among immigrant communities.

The political support for high levels of immigration is widespread and very deep in communities that need new sources of demand for both schools and housing. Places as diverse as Illinois, New York and Massachusetts, and major Rust Belt states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio have all benefitted from the diversity and size of the U.S. legal immigration boom. These big states may be ’under-represented’ in the U.S. Senate, but they have no intention of losing House seats to the Sunbelt as well.

If anything, the population and demographic differences that are developing among the states – especially the profound differences between the dozen largest and twenty smallest states – are going to become very significant politically. While the twelve largest states (with 24 Senate seats) hold 55 percent of the U.S. population, the smallest 20 have less than 10 percent. In effect, the 40 senators who can block any national legislation in the Senate using the filibuster could conceivably represent fewer people than the number of Americans who live in California.

In addition, as 36 million Baby Boomers retire in the next 20 years, immigration alone will replace that number of working Americans. The fact that the Echo Boom has been waiting patiently in the wings for the Boomer jobs, is another profound political challenge caused by the wave of legal immigration.

As far as the demographic differences that will be shaping up among the states, something new is going to be happening. Unlike the members of the Baby Boom, immigrants are tending to congregate in only certain states and communities. As a result, states like West Virginia and North and South Dakota, will have far fewer young adults to replace Baby Boom retirees in their labor markets, but especially, in their middle-income housing markets. On the other hand, Texas and California will continue to have large young adult populations seeking jobs and housing in a wide array of local markets.

In the next 20 years, the U.S. will be characterized by booming, fast-growth markets in Texas, Florida, and in many of the largest metro areas. But it will also see slow- and no-growth trends starting to take their economic toll in many of the smallest states, where income, home prices, and even local school enrollments will be affected. Whatever political problems already exist for the out-of-favor U.S. Senate will only be compounded by the big immigration numbers which are expected to continue all through this new century.

About the Author:

Peter Fugiel, Ph.D., a housing and public finance consultant in Chicago, is a frequent contributor to His firm, PMN Community Services, provides research services to Chicago-area communities based on platform that combines real estate market analysis with municipal bond research.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed within this article are those of the author, and may not necessarily reflect the views of RICIC, LLC or MuniNetGuide.