- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

Virginia had the country's fastest growing population of immigrants from the Middle East in the 1990s, according to a national study.
The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that the state's population of Middle Eastern immigrants increased by more than 52,000 during the decade, a jump of 180 percent, based on an analysis of data from the 2000 census and a related sampling survey.
Virginia ranked fifth in immigrant population from the Middle East, with more than 81,000 people from 25 countries from Morocco to Pakistan.
California, New York, Texas and Michigan had more people from the region. Most of Virginia's immigrants are clustered in the Washington area and hail from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran that are not part of the Arab Middle East.
Nationally, immigration from the Middle East more than doubled from 1990 to 2000, although the region still accounts for only 5 percent of the country's immigrant population.
The country's estimated 1.5 million Middle Eastern immigrants do not include the nearly 600,000 people born in the United States to at least one parent from the region.
Unlike earlier waves of immigrants from the region, whose descendants include John Sununu, chief of staff to former President George H.W. Bush, and musician Frank Zappa, most of the new arrivals are Muslim, the study states.
The immigrants tend to be well-educated and relatively affluent, although the study paradoxically states that the levels of poverty and reliance on welfare also are higher than for American-born residents.
They are still clamoring to come, despite the September 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, the report says, projecting that the Middle Eastern population will grow to about 2.5 million by the next census in 2010.
The increasing Middle Eastern presence did not surprise Eva Teig Hardy, a Dominion Virginia Power executive whose family immigrated to Virginia from Egypt in 1957.
"I've been trying to tell people that for the last 10 years," she said.
Nor did it surprise Helen Samhan, a Fairfax County resident who is executive director of the Arab American Institute Foundation. "We believe Virginia is all the richer for all the immigration that is coming."
However, Miss Samhan denounced the motives behind the study as "racist to the core" and being intended to frighten Americans with the specter of the "Muslim boogeyman" in their midst.
She questioned the extrapolation of religion of the immigrants, which the census does not ask and including countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh that are part of South Asia.
The report's author, Steven A. Camarota, said the center is concerned that the high levels of immigration are overwhelming the government's ability to enforce immigration laws and issue visas effectively.
The report suggests that "in a time of war, it may make sense to more vigorously pursue Middle Easterners who violate immigration laws in the short term" but adds that future immigration polices "must avoid calls to single out Mideast immigrants."

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