Middle-America Hit with Staggering Immigration Surge

Brendan Kirby, Lifezette, September 12, 2016

In 1990, adult immigrants were hardly a factor in North Carolina’s Randolph County, making up a little more than 1 percent of all residents 18 and older.

By 2014, the adult immigration population had ballooned 948 percent. The 8,950 foreign-born adults that year were 6.1 percent of the entire county population. That is a 683 percent increase in the immigrant share of the county’s adult population.

Among the U.S. counties with a total population of at least 100,000 in 1990, only one–North Carolina’s Robeson County–had a faster rise in the share of adults born in another country. Arnold Lanier, a county commissioner in Randolph, said the huge influx of foreign residents has strained social services and limited budgets.

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The pace of the immigrant population growth makes Randolph County something of an outlier, but a study released Monday by the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies shows that it is far from alone. Drawing on data from the U.S. Census data, the think tank demonstrates how profoundly immigration has changed many communities. Researchers focused on immigrants 18 and older because they have the most immediate impact on a community.

“The impact in some of these counties is hard to overstate,” said Steven Camarota, the study’s author.

Findings include:

  • Since 1990, the immigrant share of adults more than quadrupled in 232 counties.
  • The number of counties where immigrants made up at least 20 percent of the adult population jumped from 44 in 1990 to 152 in 2014.
  • Immigration is impacting an ever-larger proportion of Americans. In 1990, 1 in 8 Americans lived in a county where at least 20 percent of adults were immigrants. By 2014, 1 in 3 people did.

The political ramifications are hard to calculate. Camarota, director of research at the center, noted that even though immigration touches more Americans that it used to, most people still live in areas with relatively low levels of migration.

“For large numbers of Americans, the issue is still an abstraction,” he said.

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