Minnesotans For Sustainability©
Sustainable Society: A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.
How Immigration Fuels Population Growth
The United States experienced record levels of immigration in the 1990s. Fifteen million immigrants settled in the U.S. legally and illegally during the decade. Factor in their children and the generally higher fertility rates among immigrant groups, and this single factor accounts, conservatively, for more than half the astounding 35 million increase in U.S. population in the 1990s.
Immigration at these levels has a significant impact on a
variety of pressing national issues, such as school overcrowding, bankrupt
public health care systems, the alarming number of children living in poverty,
and deteriorating or inadequate infrastructure. For cities and regions
experiencing particularly high levels of immigration-related population growth,
no serious discussion of these issues can be undertaken without reexamining
Immigration increased at more than six times the rate of increase for the native-born population. Nationwide, population increased by 13 percent over the 1990s. However, when the components of that increase are analyzed, it can be seen that the immigrant population1 increased 57.4 percent (from 19.8 million to 31.1 million), while the native-born population increased 9.3 percent (from 229.1 million to 250.3 million).
This division of the increase in the population identifies immigration as being directly responsible for more than one-third (35%) of the country's population increase during the 1990s. The most recent estimate by the Census Bureau indicates that, since the start of the new century, immigration is accounting for almost half (44%) of the population increase,2 without taking into account the additional impact resulting from the children born to immigrants after they arrive.
If our immigration policies remain unchanged, Census Bureau
projections show that immigration will account for two-thirds of the staggering
135 million additional residents projected to be added our population during the
first half of this century. In that context, discussing the future of American
cities without addressing the impact of immigration is an exercise in futility.
In all large cities in the United States where the population is increasing, immigration is fueling the increase. Of metro areas with populations of more than one million in 2000 and an increase in population of over 20 percent between 1990-2000, the rate of increase of the immigrant population is generally more than three times greater than the rate of increase in non-immigrant newcomers.
Many of the cities with the largest influx of immigrants
are not increasing especially rapidly in total population because there are so
many native-born residents moving out of those cities. That exodus of
native-born residents dampens the overall net change. In five of those
metropolitan areas,3 i.e., those in which the native-born population was less in
2000 than in 1990 (see Table 1),
The problems resulting from the demographic trends in those large immigrant-settlement cities relate to the population increase itself (immigration added more than 100,000 residents in each of these cities during the 1990s) and to the changing characteristics of the population, as immigrants displace or replace native-born residents. Those localities have acute problems associated with the influx of immigrants such as school overcrowding, insufficient low-income housing, and the strains on public education from educating large numbers of non-English-speaking children.
Other examples of chronic immigration-related problems in
these major cities include overcrowded housing, school crowding, and budgetary
problems due to increasing outlays for services at the same time that tax
collections stagnate in part because many of these new workers are earning
subsistence wages and/or working off the books.
New York City's housing supply has not kept pace with its surging population, creating high prices, overcrowding, and homelessness.6 Bronx County has the third highest rate of severely crowded housing in the nation.7 Flushing's housing shortage is so severe that there is simply no more living space; houses and apartments are being subdivided, and basements, attics, and garages are all being rented out.8 And New York's schools are bursting with over-capacity enrollments, a trend that the school chancellor says is "almost exclusively driven by immigration."9 Some classes are even being held in school ticket booths and custodial closets.10
Other cities in this list are suffering as well:
Thirty-seven of Detroit's 88 suburban school districts had double-digit
enrollment growth between 1992 and 2000.11 Apartments in Bergen are among the
least affordable in the U.S., according to the National Low Income Housing
Coalition. To afford the estimated $1,050 rent on a typical two-bedroom
apartment in Bergen, a worker needs to earn an hourly wage of $20.19, almost
quadruple the minimum wage of $5.15.12 In Boston, congestion costs each motorist
three days and $1,255 each year.13 In Chicago, rush hour now lasts almost eight
hours a day,14 and affordable housing shortages are becoming a crisis.15
Where the most dramatically increased problems of crowding, urban sprawl, and related issues arise is in cities where there is both an influx of immigrants and of native-born residents. Those two sources of population increase combined with natural change (involving the birth rate) result in population growth rates that strain the ability of city planners to manage the impact.
The Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area offers an example of the challenges in dealing with this high-impact population growth. Portland's battle against sprawl is well known. But with a 28 percent increase in population during the 1990s, Portland, once a model for limiting urban growth, has been forced to repeatedly expand its urban boundary. Growth has led to traffic congestion, longer commutes, and inflated home prices (which increased 44 percent in the 1990s16). In December 2002, Portland's regional government agreed to the largest expansion of allowable development in its history-18,600 acres-simply to accommodate population growth anticipated over the next 20 years.17 In the Portland school districts, as many as two out of three new students are immigrants.18
What is strikingly evident in these bursting cities is that the rate of increase in immigrant settlement is consistently much greater than the rate of increase from domestic migration into the metropolitan area. This pattern of immigration-led population growth may be seen in Table 3. The criteria for selecting these metropolitan areas were that they had populations of more than one million in 2000 and had an increase in population of over 20 percent between 1990-2000. All U.S. metropolitan areas that met these two criteria are included in the table.19
Even in Las Vegas, the nation's fastest growing large metropolitan area, the high rate of increase in the native-born population (131%) is outstripped by the even higher rate of increase in the foreign-born population (248%). In every other of these metropolitan areas the rate of increase of the immigrant population is more than three times greater than the rate of increase in native-born newcomers.
What symptoms accompany this immigration-inflated population growth? Las Vegas' school enrollment doubled during the 1990s. Clark County school district (part of the Las Vegas metro area) projects that, given the current trend, it will add 10,000 to 15,000 students every year.20,21 Officials say that unless Salt Lake City acts to limit sprawl and curb auto emissions, the city could soon be "obscured by a soup of pollutants."22 In the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metro area, one in every ten students, or 3,000 students in Durham, attend class in mobile trailers, many of which are decades old and dilapidated.23 Chapel Hill expects its high schools to reach 126 percent of their capacity in the next three years.24
In mid-sized cities with population growth higher than 20 percent between 1990 – 2000, new immigrant residents accounted for portions ranging from one-fifth to one-third of the increase.
The impact of rapidly increasing immigrant populations is
not limited to the largest metropolitan areas. The data on cities of between
half a million and one million residents show a similar pattern of a rapidly
growing immigrant population outstripping change in the native-born population
(see Table 4). Each of the cities in this table also had population growth rates
in excess of 20 percent between 1990 – 2000.25
In every smaller metro area that increased by more than 20 percent between 1990 – 2000, the rate of increase from net immigrant settlement exceeded the increase from net domestic in-migration.
The rate of population increase in the immigrant population of these cities ranged from about twice as much as the increase in the native-born population up to more than 15 times as much.
A look at similar data for cities with population size between a quarter of a million residents and half a million residents reveals the same pattern. Once again, the municipalities selected for examination are all of those that increased in size by more than 20 percent between 1990 – 2000 (see Table 5).26
The rate of increase from net immigrant settlement exceeded the increase from net domestic in-migration in every one of these 16 smaller metropolitan areas. The rate of population increase in the immigrant population of these cities ranged from about twice as much as the increase in the native-born population (Daytona Beach) up to more than 15 times as much (Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro area).
The share of the overall population increase that was directly attributable to the influx of immigrants was more than one-third in Modesto (38%), Brownsville-Harlingen (37%), and Salem (34%). The amount of change from immigration was more than one-fifth in another five of the metropolitan areas: Naples (30%), Reno (29%), Boulder-Longmont (22%), Fort Myers-Cape Coral (22%), and Fort Pierce-Port St. Lucie (21%).
The number of people coming to our country is based on a discretionary policy. The flow of legal immigrants, refugees, and even illegal entrants may be changed by law and by the actions or inaction of the government.
Economic, social, and environmental policy would benefit greatly from moderating mass immigration. Though not entirely responsible for the three most troublesome phenomena plaguing America's large cities-the growing disparity between rich and poor, collapsing social institutions, and urban sprawl and congestion-none of these issues can be adequately addressed while large numbers of new immigrants, many lacking education and skills, pour in.
Once the role of immigration in causing our urban areas to be bursting at the seams is recognized, the need to pursue the following agenda is clear:
Reduce overall immigration levels. Incrementally, the federal government should reduce overall legal immigration levels to the U.S. to somewhere between a quarter and a third of current levels, while a vigorous, coordinated effort is made to deter illegal immigration.
Increase federal reimbursement for immigration-related costs. The federal government, which has ultimate responsibility for making and enforcing immigration laws, should assume the bulk of the cost burden associated with this policy, thereby relieving state and local governments of what amounts to an enormous unfunded federal mandate.
Make federal reimbursement contingent on local policies and efforts. Local governments that choose to offer costly benefits to immigrants, above and beyond those required by federal policy and common decency, must be prepared to pay those costs themselves. Local politicians, seeking to appeal to blocs of new voters, should not expect the costs to be borne by taxpayers throughout the rest of the country.
Immigration enforcement must include federal-local
cooperation. Local governments cannot reasonably complain about the cost and
impact of illegal immigration, while they stand on the sideline, or worse,
inhibit, the enforcement of immigration laws. Any local government refusing to
cooperate in enforcing laws against illegal immigration should forfeit federal
reimbursement for the costs associated with illegal immigration.
The data indicate where we are and where we are headed. How we choose to react to it is up to us. The consequences of our action or inaction will determine whether America's cities will be centers of vibrant culture, economic advancement, and social harmony, or decaying cores of despair.
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