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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Study Finds Immigration in U.S. Peaked in 2000 - New York Times

Study Finds Immigration in U.S. Peaked in 2000 - New York TimesSeptember 28, 2005
Study Finds Immigration in U.S. Peaked in 2000

For years it seemed that immigration to the United States could only rise. Now a new study, based on a year-by-year analysis of government data, shows a startlingly different pattern: Migration to the United States peaked in 2000 and has declined substantially since then.

And in New York, the historic gateway to the nation's newcomers, the influx is now lower than it has been for more than 15 years.

Both phenomena underscore the growing importance of illegal immigrants from Mexico, said Jeffrey S. Passel, a senior researcher at the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group, which released the study yesterday. And they indicate that post-9/11 security measures have had a greater impact on legal immigration than on illegal entry.

Though the level of immigration to the United States has subsided by about 25 percent from a peak of 1.5 million a year in 1999 and 2000, more annual immigration is now illegal than legal, the study found. Over all, the number of immigrants entering the country has followed the growth of the American economy. But in New York, the boom years did not draw the numbers of illegal Mexican immigrants that drove up immigration rates elsewhere.

There are signs of a fresh upturn in immigration nationally, the study showed, but the level remains at roughly what it was in the early 1990's before the short-lived spike.

"Immigrants are still coming to New York," Mr. Passel cautioned, noting that the state continued to receive more newcomers than all but three others, California, Texas and Florida. "The foreign-born population continues to grow. What we're saying here about New York, specifically, is that their share of the new arrivals has clearly gone down a lot."

Indeed, the numbers Mr. Passel assembled show New York to be unique in an unfamiliar way, since immigration is the city's legendary life's blood, the heart of its claim to be the capital of the world: New York was the only state that showed no upturn in immigrant arrivals at the turn of the 21st century.

Instead, its inflow of newcomers peaked between 1990 and 1995, gradually declined as other states were peaking, and fell again after 2001, to about 90,000 annually, down from 168,000 in 1990. The vast majority of immigration to the state is concentrated in New York City.

But Joseph Salvo, director of the City Planning Department's population division, said immigration itself was only one factor in the city's growth. With some 3.2 million foreign-born residents - a record number - high birthrates among immigrants are key. More than 6 in 10 babies born in the city since 2000 have at least one foreign-born parent.

And the city's sheer diversity also makes a difference.

"New York, as you know, has all these vibrant immigrant communities, and over time they serve as magnets for these immigrants," Mr. Salvo said. "They keep coming here almost irrespective of economic conditions."

But not, Mr. Passel said, irrespective of more stringent security measures and backlogs that have cut back legal immigration everywhere. Since the Department of Homeland Security took over the gatekeeper role after Sept. 11, 2001, it has been much harder to get a visa, he noted, and the admission of refugees has plummeted.

The study calculated that the number of legal permanent residents entering the United States declined to 455,000 last year from 647,000 at the peak in 2000. The number of unauthorized immigrants, including those who overstay visitors' visas, surpassed the number of legal entrants at the peak with 662,000 and remained higher; it was estimated at 562,000 last year. Legal, temporary residents declined to 174,000 from a peak of 268,000.

"There seems to have been a tradeoff here between legal and illegal immigration," Mr. Passel said. "Basically, we got about 1.1 to 1.2 million throughout the '90s and post-2002. We're getting roughly the same number, but the legals went down." The proportion of authorized immigrants went from more than half to 4 out of 10, he said.

That affects New York more than other places, because it has a very high percentage of legal immigrants, in contrast with states like Texas, Illinois and even North Carolina and Arizona, he added, citing an earlier study that estimated the percentage of immigrants who are legally in New York at more than 80 percent, compared with about 50 percent in many other states.

"On the legal immigration side, it's like a crowd pushing against a gate: There's only room for so many to get through," he said. "We have a real drop in legal inflows. Illegal inflows went up. New York's affected by that, because it doesn't get its proportionate share of illegals."

In terms of immigrant destinations, the study confirms a long-recognized trend away from the "big six" traditionally immigrant states - California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas - which still receive 57 percent of immigrants, toward so-called new growth states like Iowa and North Carolina. The foreign-born pioneers to such states in the 1990's now serve as a magnet for friends and relatives from abroad, especially when jobs are plentiful, Mr. Passel said.

The study draws on five different types of data gathered by the Census Bureau, including information about what year foreign-born respondents to the census entered the country, and where respondents to interim surveys lived the year before.

Mr. Salvo praised the study, but he pointed out that it did not address domestic migration of the foreign born, which is now bringing more Mexican and Central American immigrants to New York from the Southwestern states where they first settled.

And Nancy Foner, a sociology professor at Hunter College who has written widely on three centuries of immigration in the city, put the study's bottom line in perspective.

"This is a decline, but it's still incredibly high," she said. "If we're getting 90,000 a year, that's huge. And the story of immigration in New York is not just the story of continued new immigrants, but also the story of the children of immigrants."

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