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Author Says U.S. Immigration Levels Have Been Flat Since 2000

The rate of immigration accelerated in the United States over the 1990s but has been level since 2000, a demographer said this morning at a Washington forum hosted by the University of Southern California.

Dowell Myers, author of a 2007 book, Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America, presented data to dispute five prevailing ideas in the immigration debate in this country that he calls "myths." One of those is that the immigration rate is accelerating.

Myers presented data from 2000 to 2008, after which he says the immigration rate "really dives." He showed that the flow of immigration in Texas remained flat during that period and slowed somewhat in California and New York state. It did, however, speed up a bit in some states that have not traditionally received immigrants, such as Georgia. The immigration rate also crept up in Arizona from 2000 to 2008. But on average in the United States, it remained flat from 2000 to 2008.

I asked Myers if the higher fertility rate among foreign-born women versus U.S.-born women meant that the impact of immigration on U.S. schools continued to accelerate after 2000, even though the rate of newcomers arriving in the country was flat. After all, I told him, about two-thirds of children receiving special help to learn English in schools aren't immigrants themselves but are the U.S.-born children of immigrants.

Myers didn't have any data readily available to add about schools in particular, but said that because "the underlying base" of immigrant parents isn't growing, schools will eventually also see an end to any acceleration of newcomers' coming through their doors.

Other myths about immigration that Myers aimed to debunk with data are the following: Immigrants are all newcomers, immigrants are like Peter Pan in that their characteristics (such as whether they own homes or become U.S. citizens) don't change over time, immigrant children do not deserve services, and the country doesn't need immigrants, particularly during a financial crisis.

To debunk those myths, he presented data showing that a large share of immigrants have been here for decades, that a huge proportion of them eventually own homes and become U.S. citizens, that it makes sense to educate immigrant children because when they grow up they are more likely to pay more taxes if they are well-educated, and that immigrants are needed because, among other reasons, the aging Baby Boomers in this country will likely need to turn to them to find buyers for their homes.

Myers said that in 2008 in California, less than 10 percent of children under age 18 were foreign-born. He made the case that it's in the interest of the United States to provide an education for children who were born in another country and the children of immigrants.

"Once they are here and poor, I want them to be upwardly mobile" because that's what benefits the whole society, he said.

Myers didn't say why the immigration rate leveled off after 2000, but Roberto Suro, a professor of journalism and public policy at the University of Southern California, said at the forum that the recession greatly influenced the flow of immigrants.

Speaking about low-skilled immigrants, Suro said that most of them didn't return to their country of origin as a result of the job crisis caused by the recession. "These people sheltered in place." But he said that the flow of low-skilled immigrants into the country, particularly from Mexico, which, like the United States, was hard hit by economic crisis, declined dramatically. "The lesson out of the recession is that demand trumps. If there are no jobs, people stay home, even if things are bad at home," Suro said.

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