Births to immigrants accounted for 23 percent of all births in the United States in 2002, a rate that tops the previous high in 1910, according to a new study that says the increase could affect the ability of immigrants to assimilate.
In addition, an estimated 383,000 births — about one in 10 U.S. newborns — in 2002 were to illegal alien mothers. According to the report by the Center for Immigration Studies, that figure shows how difficult it will be to have a true temporary worker program because those children are citizens who can help delay their parents’ deportation and, eventually, help them apply for legal permanent residence.
“It reminds us that illegal aliens are not simply workers,” said Steven A. Camarota, the report’s author and director of research for the center. “A temporary worker program would actually result in millions of permanent additions to the U.S. population.”
Another study last month by the Pew Hispanic Center found that one-third of families headed by illegal aliens have children who are U.S. citizens.
The two studies highlight some of the complications President Bush and Congress face as they debate immigration policy, particularly creating a guest-worker program for foreign workers.
Mr. Bush has said he supports letting such workers bring their families, but Mr. Camarota yesterday said those people will have U.S. citizen children that, upon turning 18, would be able to petition for legal residence for their parents.
“There is a permanence to any immigration,” Mr. Camarota said.
He also said that the dominance of Mexicans — who account for 45 percent of all births to immigrant women, and 10 percent of U.S. births overall — is significantly different from past waves of U.S. immigration, and could have an effect on assimilation.
“If births to immigrants comprise a very large share of all births, then children from immigrant families may tend to interact primarily with each other, having little contact with the children of natives,” the report says. “As a result, foreign cultural norms, values and even identities may be dominant among these children.”
But Kevin Appleby, director of Migration and Refugee Policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the United States has always been able to assimilate immigrants.
“I don’t think this is any different than throughout the history of our nation, where we have waves of immigrants come, settle, have families and help build our nation,” he said.
Mr. Camarota’s report is based on data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics from birth certificates from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Mothers are asked their place of birth, which gave Mr. Camarota information about whether a mother was an immigrant. To determine births to illegal immigrants, Mr. Camarota generated estimates of the illegal population by demographic category and then applied them to the birth certificate data.
Mr. Camarota’s study found that births to immigrants are increasing rapidly compared with the rate of births to U.S. natives. The immigrant population in 2002 was 11.5 percent of the total U.S. population — an increase of 144 percent over 1970. But immigrants’ share of total U.S. births is 22.7 percent, an increase of 272 percent over 1970.
Locally, the Washington-Baltimore area ranks ninth among the U.S. Census Bureau’s metropolitan statistical areas in births to all immigrant women, who accounted for 28.4 percent of all births in 2002.