For More Immigrants, Suburbia’s a Nice Fit

Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY, March 4, 2008

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[Nancy] Cadavid’s tale is more than an immigrant success story. It reflects the path that immigrants increasingly are taking after they first enter the country—legally or illegally. Her moves eventually landed Cadavid—now a U.S. citizen—in a suburban county, well ensconced in middle-class America.

The movement of the foreign-born after they arrive sheds light on a key issue in the national immigration dialogue: How quickly immigrants assimilate into American culture and progress from a transient population to one that pays taxes, achieves homeownership and becomes largely self-sufficient.

Traditionally, newcomers settled in urban enclaves teeming with immigrants who shared their language and culture. They didn’t spread out much until their children grew up and moved away.

That’s still the case in some urban areas.

However, a growing number of immigrants are settling in suburbia as soon as they arrive, adding diversity to once largely homogeneous areas—and sometimes triggering tension among residents who are jarred by the impact of immigrants on their neighborhoods.

Other immigrants are moving to places that haven’t seen immigrants in almost 100 years, such as rural counties in the South and Midwest.

The newcomers’ move to the suburbs is telling, analysts say. “A good portion of the movement to outer suburbs within a region reflects a movement up the (economic) ladder,” says Audrey Singer, an immigration specialist at the Brookings Institution.

Today, many “immigrants in America are pre-assimilated,” adds Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California. “They know a lot about America before they come, and many know English, also. . . . Economically, they’re flourishing more rapidly now than they did at the turn of the (20th) century.”

How quickly immigrants assimilate depends on what measure is used—from English-speaking skills and education to employment.

Homeownership is one of the most widely used characteristics of success. About 68% of immigrants who arrived in the 1970s are homeowners—equal to the rate of natives.

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Homeownership among Hispanic immigrants is about double that of low-income immigrants of the past, [Myers] says.

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“The ones who came in the ’80s actually made faster progress than the ones who came in the ’70s, but not as fast as the ones who came in the ’60s,” says Jeffrey Passel, demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

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Spreading out

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It took 60 years for poorly educated immigrants, such as the Italians who came at the turn of the last century, to reach income and educational parity with natives, [, [Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies]] says. A century later, conditions have changed and comparisons are difficult [he] says. “This is a much bigger group” of immigrants.

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