Asians overtaking Hispanics among immigration

Posted at 9:46 PM, Sep 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-28 00:46:18-04

Asians are on pace to become the largest immigrant group in the the United States. Meanwhile, the share of new arrivals who are Hispanic is smaller than it was 50 years ago. And the percentage of the total U.S. population born outside this country was higher in 1890 than it is today.

Those are just some of the takeaways from an in-depth report released Monday by the Pew Research Center. At a time when U.S. politicians and wannabe presidents are batting around arguments and insults about immigration, the nearly 130-page document provides nonpartisan analysis that explores trends and projects the future.

The report, "Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065," comes 50 years after the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. That act did away with a quota system that once favored European immigrants and replaced it with a policy that looked toward family reunification for immigrants and employment needs in the United States.

Since the act's passage, 51% of immigrants have come from Latin America and a quarter of new immigrants have come from Asia.

What all this means -- in terms of numbers and attitudes -- is significant and worth exploring. Here are some highlights gleaned from the report:

Moving toward a new record

With one in five global immigrants living here, the United States holds the distinction of having the largest immigrant population in the world. It doesn't look like that's going to change.

In 1890, nearly 15% of the U.S. population was foreign-born. By 1965, that number fell to 5%. Today, about 14% of the country's population was born elsewhere. Come 2065, however, Pew projects that figure will hit a new high of nearly 18%.

Over the past 50 years, the total U.S. population has grown from 193 million to 324 million. New immigrants and their descendants accounted for 55% -- or 72 million -- of this growth.

But get this: By 2065, Pew projects that there will be 441 million people living in the United States, and 88% of that growth will be attributed to future immigrants and their offspring.

A closer look at the numbers

Fifty years ago, 9.6 million of those living in the United States were born outside the country.

Since then, about 59 million immigrants have come to the United States. But the official current population figure for those who are foreign-born is 45 million -- a number that factors in those who've since left the U.S. or died.

By 2065, Pew projects more than 78 million people living in America will have been born elsewhere.

The numbers referenced in this report include those who've arrived here legally and those who are unauthorized.

Pew estimates that 11.3 million immigrants in the United States are unauthorized to be here. The number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico peaked in 2007 at 6.9 million. It's gone down ever since, the report says, and reached 5.9 million in 2012. Even so, they still make up the majority of unauthorized immigrants.

A shifting tide

Though Hispanics make up 47% of immigrants living in the United States, immigration from Latin America has slowed, especially from Mexico.

A steep decline began in 2007, in part because of the Great Recession, explains Mark Lopez, the director of Hispanic research for the Pew Research Center. But he also points to the fact that it became more difficult to cross the border and to demographic changes in Mexico with fewer young people wanting to head north.

By 2065, Hispanics are expected to make up 31% of immigrants. Asians, on the other hand, will outnumber Hispanics and make up 38% of immigrants.

Lopez, who oversaw this study, says the steady rise of Asian immigrants has bubbled up over the past 10 years. He mentions Chinese citizens who've flocked to the United States for graduate school. And he talks about the great influx of Indians who've come on visas to work in high tech, taking jobs in Silicon Valley.

While demographic changes in Latin America, not just Mexico, suggest numbers of immigrants to the United States will continue to decline, what's happening in Asia indicates the opposite will hold true, Lopez says.

One need only look at the past five years to see how this trend is taking form. Of immigrants who've been in the United States for no more than five years, more have come from Asia (2.5 million) than from Central and South America (1.7 million).

And, according to the study, the current share of new arrivals to the United States who are Hispanic is smaller than it was five decades ago. Of immigrants who arrived between 1965 and 1970, 35% were Hispanic. More recently, Hispanics account for 33% of those who've come here.

How we see one another

In looking at the opinions of the American public, Pew found that 45% say immigrants are making society better, while 37% say they're making it worse. Half of Americans would like to see a reduction in immigration, while eight in 10 people want to see the immigration system changed or completely overhauled.

Half of those surveyed say immigrants have had a negative effect on the economy and crime. But when it comes to food, music and the arts, half say immigrants have made America better.

Immigrants from Asia and Europe fare best when it comes to how Americans view them, with 47% and 44%, respectively, seeing them in a positive light. Only 11% see Asians negatively, and just 9% see Europeans that way.

Immigrants from Africa and Latin America are viewed positively by only 26% of those surveyed and are seen negatively by 22% and 37% respectively.

Those who arrive from the Middle East have it the worst. They are seen positively by just 20% of those who answered and negatively by about twice as much.

The changing face of America

According to Pew, within four decades the United States will no longer have a majority group.

Fifty years ago, non-Hispanic whites made up 84% of the U.S. population. Today, that number is 62%. In 2065, that figure is anticipated to fall to 46%. The black population has grown from 11% to 12% over the past 50 years and is expected to go up one more percentage point by 2065.

Looking at the current largest immigrant groups, Hispanics made up 4% of the total U.S. population in 1965. Today they make up 18%, and by 2065, that figure is projected to be 24%. Asians were less than 1% of the total population 50 years ago. That figure went up to 6% in 2015 and expected to be 14% by 2065.

If there'd been no immigration since 1965, Pew researchers suggest that the face of America would look like this today: 75% white, 14% black, 8% Hispanic and less than 1% Asian.

The reality, racially and ethnically, is obviously quite different. The nation has changed since 1965 -- and will, no doubt, continue to.