Professor, Department of Sociology
University of Illinois at Chicago
United States. As of the year, 2002, more than 32 million new residents, or approximately 11 per cent of the total population, had been added in this manner to the population of the United States (U.S. Census, February 2003). This stream of new immigrants has come to America from places very different from those in the past. As the result of a major overhaul of immigration policy evident in the 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act, the long-time preference for settlement given to immigrants from Western Europe was dropped; in its place new criteria were enacted that would shift the basic flow of immigrants from Western Europe to Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The large majority of these newcomers today, or about 50 per cent, arrive from countries in Latin America (U.S. Census, February 2003). By far the largest number comes from Mexico. As of the year 2000, 9.2 million immigrants, or roughly 30 per cent of the total foreign-born residents of the United States had entered from Mexico (U.S. Census, December 2003). As one might expect, these immigrants bring with them many things – not the least of which is often a rich culture and a different language, both of which are beginning to alter the character of the United States.
The changes to America are concentrated both regionally and in major metropolitan areas. The foreign-born tend to be most heavily concentrated in the West and Northeast, and least heavily in the Midwest (U.S. Census, December 2003). For example, fully 26 per cent of the population of the state of California comes today from foreign countries. Moreover, as of the year, 2000, four counties held 22 per cent of the total U.S. foreign-born population (U.S. Census, December 2003). They were: Los Angeles County; Miami-Dade County; Cook County, Illinois; and Queens County, New York.