- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

The foreign-born population in the United States grew to more than 33 million in 2002, a jump of 5 percent in one year and accounting for nearly half the country’s population growth last year, according to the Census Bureau.

The foreign-born — defined as individuals not born in the United States or its territories or to U.S. citizens living overseas — accounted for 44 percent of the total U.S. population growth during the year. In the 1990s, they accounted for 40.3 percent of growth.

The vast majority of that growth was the result of immigration from Latin America, which accounted for more than 1 million of the 1.6 million increase in the foreign-born population. Asia was second, accounting for an increase of about 400,000. The total U.S. population is 280.5 million.

The numbers are part of findings from the 2002 American Community Survey (ACS), which the Census Bureau is releasing today.

“The American Community Survey showed that last year alone, the nation’s foreign-born population grew by 1.6 million people,” said Preston Jay Waite, associate director for the decennial census.

Of the 33 million foreign-born, nearly half entered the United States since 1990, and about 41 percent are U.S. citizens, the survey found.

The numbers, which aren’t broken down into legal and illegal residents, still present information for policy-makers as they confront a continuation of the immigration levels of the 1990s, which are the highest for any historic period.

“There’s no evidence of a slowdown, and why would there be?” said Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower legal immigration and a crackdown on illegal immigration.

He called higher numbers of foreign-born residents “a permanent feature unless the United States takes steps to change it.”

Marisa Demeo, legal counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the government must be more aggressive in finding and legalizing undocumented immigrants while helping those who are here legally to obtain citizenship more quickly.

“It’s good for our national security to know who they are and legalize them,” she told the Associated Press.

Locally, 14.6 percent of D.C. residents were born in foreign countries, the eighth-highest percentage in the nation. Maryland was 14th, with 10.8 percent, and Virginia was 19th, with 8.8 percent. The national average was 11.8 percent.

But when compared with other cities, the District ranked toward the middle of the pack — 32nd out of the 68 cities listed. Virginia Beach was 56th, and Baltimore was 59th.

Among counties, Montgomery County topped the region, with 28 percent of its population being foreign-born — 16th highest among the 231 listed. Fairfax County was 22nd, with 26.3 percent of its population foreign-born.

The ACS is a new tool that the Census Bureau hopes will give a more thorough snapshot of demographic trends year to year.

The ACS asks many of the same questions that had been reserved for the bureau’s long form, which was part of the decennial census. But the ACS will be sent out monthly to a sample population, which will then be totaled annually to provide information on a host of demographic questions.

The 2002 version was sent to more than 742,000 households, but by next year, the bureau expects to survey 3 million homes annually.

In addition to the foreign-born population, the survey also found that nearly 1.4 million more people lived in poverty last year — almost half of them children — even as the country emerged from recession.

About 12.4 percent of the population, or nearly 34.8 million people, lived in poverty last year. Roughly 17.2 percent of children, or 12.2 million, were poor in 2002, up from 16.4 percent, or about 11.5 million, in 2001.

Among other economic results, the ACS also found that about 6.8 million households received food stamps last year, up from 6.4 million in 2001, and that the number of people employed in the manufacturing industry dropped almost 5 percent, or 830,000, to fewer than 17.1 million.

There was a roughly 4 percent rise in the number of people working in education, health or social services — nearly 27.1 million. Increases also were seen in the numbers of people working in the arts, in entertainment, in recreation, in accommodation and in food services.

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