The Declining Diversity of Immigrants

by Steve Sailer

UPI, September 8, 2003


The main engine of the United States' increasing demographic diversity -- mass immigration -- is becoming less diverse, as immigrants from Latin America become an ever-larger fraction of the foreign born in the United States, according to a report released Friday by the Center for Immigration Studies.

"Immigrants from Spanish-speaking Latin America accounted for more than 60 percent of the growth in the foreign-born population nationally in the 1990s," according to the report by Steven A. Camarota and Nora McArdle based on 2000 Census data released this summer.

The Center for Immigration Studies is a Washington think tank that describes itself as "an independent, non-partisan, non-profit research organization ... devoted exclusively to research and policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal and other impacts of immigration on the United States." As part of its self-stated mission, the center "is animated by a pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted."

The apparent increase in Hispanics as a percentage of U.S. immigration raises far-reaching questions about exactly what kind of diversity our country desires for itself.

The late Jim Chapin, a former executive director of the Democratic Socialists of America and one-time political analyst for United Press International, would boast that his neighborhood in the New York borough of Queens was almost perfectly balanced in numbers among whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

He wrote, "My two cents on immigration/diversity: I'm for it, based on my own experience in Queens County for 30 years. What I am not for is what is rapidly becoming 'sole-source immigration.' Carry this on for 50 years, and the U.S. will be another Dade County (the Hispanic-dominated home of Miami)."

A single source country, Mexico, largely drives the trend toward homogeneity among U.S. immigrants. In the 1970 Census, the largest sending nation, Italy, accounted for 10 percent of all the foreign-born in the United States. By 1980, Mexico had taken first place with 16 percent, rising to 22 percent in 1990, and 30 percent in 2000.

Spanish-speaking countries south of Mexico accounted for another 17 percent, bringing the Latin American total to 47 percent of the 31 million foreign-born residents of the United States. That's up from 37 percent of the 19.6 million immigrants in 1990, according to census data.

Moreover, Hispanic immigrants have a higher fertility rate than other immigrant groups (or native-born Americans), so they account for an even greater fraction of the young children of immigrants.

According to data assembled by demographer Hans P. Johnson of the Public Policy Institute of California, in the mid-'80s in California, foreign-born Hispanics women were having babies at a pace that would average out to a lifetime total of 3.25 babies per woman. As the 1986 amnesty of illegal immigrants took effect, this total fertility rate shot up to 4.44 babies per immigrant Hispanic woman by 1991. It then declined to 3.25 babies apiece by 1998, the last year for which Johnson had data.

In contrast, non-Hispanic whites, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans all average between 1.8 and 2.2 babies per woman.

Influential beltway personalities are not much exposed to this trend because immigration to the Washington area is so diverse. Mexico is the eighth-most common sending nation among the foreign born of Maryland, and it's fourth in Virginia.

In contrast, in North Carolina there are almost 10 times as many people from Mexico as from the No. 2 sending country, Germany. In Texas, the ratio is 18 to 1. Nationally, there are more than six times as many people from Mexico (9.2 million) as from the No. 2 source (China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan), up from a 4.6 to 1 ratio in 1990.

In financially wracked California, Democrat Joe Guzzardi, who teaches English as a second language to Hispanic immigrants in the Lodi public schools, is running for governor to bring attention to the problems caused by mass immigration. He told United Press International: "No fewer than 23 California counties fell into the census survey that ranked counties nationwide with the highest percentages of foreign-born residents. How California is going to handle this continued influx of people will be a major hurdle for either (Gov.) Gray Davis or his replacement. I recommend that all the candidates join me in a discussion of this vital issue."

There has been little discussion of this in recent years, however, in part for fear of being labeled "racist" or "insensitive." Interestingly, though, America's highly liberal neighbor to the north takes a more hardheaded approach to choosing immigrants.

Compared to the United States, Canada's immigrant population is much more diversified, with its largest single-source region, East Asia, accounting for 13 percent of the foreign-born.

The greater variety of immigrants in Canada has two main causes: Canada has fewer illegal aliens, and it aggressively tries to skim the cream off immigration applicants from around the globe, in contrast to the U.S. government's more passive role in deciding who can move to America.

The U.S. government estimates that 8 million or 9 million people are in the country illegally, which would be about one-fourth of all the foreign-born. According to the CIS report, "The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates indicate that in 2000 roughly half of the Mexican-born population in the United States was illegal." The report set the figure at some 4.8 million illegal aliens from Mexico.

In comparison, the Canadian government claims that Canada has about 20,000 illegal aliens. Unofficial estimates run up to 10 times higher, but would still be less than 5 percent of all immigrants. In any case, Canada exerts far greater control over who gets in.

Further, the two nations exhibit a fundamental philosophical disagreement over what the purpose of legal immigration should be. To a significantly greater extent than the United States, Canada tries to choose those applicants who possess the "human capital" to most benefit Canada as a whole. The Canadian government offers an online point system where potential immigrants can quickly check out whether they've got the right stuff that Canada wants in its newcomers (mostly job skills, higher education, English or French fluency, and some degree of youth).

Minister of National Revenue Elinor Caplan, then minister of Citizenship and Immigration, on the ministry's Web site, explained, "Independent skilled immigrants (the largest single class of those admitted to Canada) are selected on the basis of their potential contribution to Canada's economic and social well-being."

In contrast, the American government's philosophy of immigration -- to the extent that it actually has one -- appears to be based more on poetry than analysis of who could most benefit current U.S. citizens.

James W. Ziglar, the Bush administration's former head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, testified to the Senate in July 2001 that his "philosophy" was that the United States should continue to be "a magnet for the tired, the poor, the homeless, the tempest-tossed, the wretched refuse of teeming shores, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Since the government is unenthusiastic about choosing among immigration applicants for the common good, others select them for it based on their private wants. Translated to the real world, Ziglar's philosophy means that most legal immigrants to the United States (72 percent in 1998) get in by being related to somebody, typically a recent immigrant. In contrast, 11.7 percent of legal immigrants were admitted for "employment-based" reasons. (And that includes the workers' spouses and children.)

The U.S. reliance on "family reunification" as the prime justification for picking immigrants means that the small number of countries that started sending many immigrants to the United States soon after quotas were liberalized in 1965 are permanently privileged in the struggle for visas.

Chapin, a long-time adviser to liberal Democratic politicians such as recent New York City mayoral candidate Mark Green, summed up, "I can see reasonable arguments for America being a diverse country, but I have yet to hear a good argument for turning the U.S. into a Latin American country."

Steve Sailer ( is a columnist for and the film critic for The American Conservative.

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