Thursday, May 22, 2014
Still a Nation of Immigrants - Notes for a Lecture, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United"
Still a Nation of Immigrants - Charles M. Blow, New York Times
The American melting pot appears to be heating up again, and its ingredients have grown ever more varied.
In 1908, when a play called “The Melting Pot” was first staged in New York City, helping to popularize the term, New York had a foreign-born population of over 40 percent, but the city was 98 percent white (which could include people of Hispanic origins). The foreign-born population of the country as a whole was around 15 percent, and nearly nine out of 10 Americans were white. This was a few years after these words were mounted on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Few people at that time could have imagined how dramatically the composition of those huddled masses would change.
A century later, according to the 2010 census, 37 percent of residents in New York City were foreign born, but only 44 percent were white, and if you exclude people of Hispanic origins, the percentage of white residents drops to just 33 percent. In the country as a whole, the foreign-born population in 2010 was 13 percent, and the white population was over 75 percent, and about 15 points lower when Hispanics are excluded.
But as a Pew Research report issued last week makes clear, there has been a “sharp rise in the number of immigrants living in the U.S. in recent decades,” and many of the states with the largest foreign-born populations have seen the percentages of those citizens increase.
According to the report, in 1990 the 10 states with the largest foreign-born populations had between 21.7 percent foreign-born residents, in California, and 8.5 percent, in Connecticut. In 2012, the range was from 27 percent foreign born in California to 13.8 percent in Illinois.
The report further points out:
“In 1990, the U.S. had 19.8 million immigrants. That number rose to a record 40.7 million immigrants in 2012, among them 11.7 million unauthorized. Over this period, the number of immigrants in the U.S. increased more than five times as much as the U.S.-born population (106.1 percent versus 19.3 percent), according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data.”
“Today there are four states in which about one-in-five or more people are foreign born — California, New York, New Jersey and Florida. By contrast, in 1990, California was the only state to have more than a fifth of its population born outside the U.S.”
According to a September report from the Immigration Policy Center:
“In the 2014 elections, there will be approximately 9.3 million newly eligible voters. These include both people who were 16 or 17 years old at the time of the 2012 elections, as well as immigrants who become naturalized U.S. citizens between 2012 and 2014. Of these 9.3 million newly eligible voters, 1.8 million will be Asian or Latino. Another 1.4 million will be new U.S. citizens through naturalization. Together, these 3.2 million people will comprise 34 percent of the new electorate.”
And that is to say nothing of the surge in African-born immigrants. According to a 2011 article in the United Nations Dispatch:
“Over the last 30 years, the African born population has grown from just 200,000 people to 1.5 million. And while Africans still make up just 3.9 percent of the total foreign-born population, that share is growing fast. In 2010, for example, nearly 10 percent of new green card recipients were born in Africa.”
And yet, as Pew pointed out in April, voter turnout among Asians and Hispanics has fallen in midterm elections in recent years.
There is a fundamental disconnect here: Many of the groups that are driving the diversification of the country aren’t seizing the electoral power that comes with being here.
And all the while, politicians in Washington — particularly Republicans — drag their feet on immigration reform, and those in statehouses, hoping to slam the lid on the melting pot and suppress the flavor within, pull every lever available, from strict anti-immigrant policies to voter-ID laws.
This is still a country of immigrants, but the profile of the immigrant population is changing dramatically. Now lady liberty waits for the masses to stop huddling and stand, to turn yearning into power, to make American politics a reflection of the country’s internal transformation.
The first step on that path is for more immigrants to vote.