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Immigration Numbers Continue to Climb By: Center for Immigration Studies
The Center for Immigration Studies | Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Data not yet released by the government shows that a record number of legal and illegal immigrants continued to arrive in the United States through the first part of this year. An analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies of the Current Population Survey (CPS) collected in March 2002 by the Census Bureau indicates that 33.1 million legal and illegal immigrants live in the United States, an increase of 2 million just since the census. A new report, Immigrants in the United States — 2002: A Snapshot of America’s Foreign-Born Population by the Center’s Director of Research, Steven Camarota, provides a much more detailed look at the nation’s immigrant (or foreign-born) population than is possible from the 2000 census, including welfare use, health insurance coverage, poverty, entrepreneurship, and many other characteristics. The report also contains detailed information for each state.

Among the report’s findings:

  • There is no evidence that the economic slowdown that began in 2000 or the terrorist attacks in 2001 has significantly slowed the rate of immigration. More than 3.3 million legal and illegal immigrants entered the country between January 2000 and March 2002.
  • An immigrant population of 33.1 million is historically unprecedented. It is more than twice the number (13.5 million) reached in 1910 during the previous great wave of immigration.
  • Immigration has become the determinate factor in U.S. population growth. The arrival of over 3 million legal and illegal immigrants, coupled with 1.5 million births to immigrant women over the last two years, accounts for nearly 90 percent of U.S. population growth since the 2000 census.
  • While immigration has a dramatic effect on the overall size of the U.S. population, it has had a relatively modest effect on the age structure. The nearly 16 million immigrants who arrived in the United States since 1990 have lowered the average age in the United States by only four months.
  • "Many Americans have the mistaken impression that the economic slowdown and last year’s terrorist attacks dramatically reduced immigration. These new figures show that, at least so far, this is not the case," said Camarota. "Legal and illegal immigration are largely disconnected from economic conditions in the United States because life remains far better here than in most of the immigrant-sending countries." Camarota also pointed out that, "Whatever one thinks of contemporary immigration, it is important to understand that its effect on America represents a choice. The level of legal immigration can be changed, as can the amount of resources devoted to reducing illegal immigration."

    Other findings in the report:

  • Immigrants account for 11.5 percent of the total population, the highest percentage in 70 years. If current trends continue, the immigrant share of the total population will surpass the all time high of 14.8 percent, reached in 1890, by the end of this decade.
  • In 2002, 39.2 percent of immigrants 18 and older are citizens and they comprise 6 percent of all eligible voters.
  • Immigrants and natives exhibit remarkably similar rates of entrepreneurship, with about 1 in 10 of both groups being self-employed.
  • The percentage of immigrants without a high school diploma is 30 percent, more than three-and-a-half times the rate for natives. Since 1990 immigration has increased the number of high school dropouts in the labor force by 21 percent while increasing the supply of all other workers by 5 percent.
  • The poverty rate for immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) is two-thirds higher than that of natives and their children, 17.6 percent versus 10.6 percent for natives.
  • The proportion of immigrant headed households using at least one major welfare program is 24.5 percent compared 16.3 percent for native households.
  • One-third of immigrants do not have health insurance — two-and-one-half times the rate for natives, and new immigrants and their U.S.-born children account for 95 percent of the increase in the uninsured population since 1989.
  • The low educational attainment and resulting low wages of many immigrants is the primary reason so many live in poverty, use welfare, or lack health insurance, not their legal status or an unwillingness to work.
  • Immigration accounts for all of the national increase in public school enrollment over the last two decades. In 2002, there were 9.7 million school-age children from immigrant families in the United States.
  • Methodology: Center for Immigration Studies analysis of the March 2002 CPS shows that there were 32.5 million immigrants in the United States. To this number we add the 600,000 immigrants found to be living in "group quarters," such as prisons and nursing homes, by the preliminary 2000 Census. The CPS does not cover such institutions. The flow figure of 3.3 million new immigrants since January 2000 comes directly from responses to the year-of-entry question in the March 2002 CPS. The foreign-born population in the CPS is thought to include 8 million illegal aliens.

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    The Center for Immigration Studies is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization which examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States. It is not affiliated with any other group.

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