Immigrants invade the heartland

The tired truism that America is a nation of immigrants is really true.

New Census bureau household numbers show that immigrants now make up 12.4 percent of the population, up from 11.2 percent in 2000, and not far off the historical high of 15 percent. They number 35.7 million, about 4 million more than the population of Canada. The Census did not differentiate between legal and illegal, but the generally accepted number for illegal immigrants is 12 million.

What’s different about this current wave of immigration is that the newcomers are fanning out across the country, cropping up in places not generally thought of as draws and destinations for immigrants. South Dakota, for example, showed a 44 percent rise in the foreign-born.

Traditionally, about 80 percent of immigrants arrived — and remained — in a half-dozen gateway states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey and Illinois. While more than half still do, other states are now experiencing an influx of immigrants _ Arkansas, Nebraska, Delaware, Missouri, New Hampshire and especially the Southeast, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina. South Carolina’s immigrant population is up 47 percent since 2000, the largest of any state.

In four suburban counties around Washington, D.C., a fourth or more of the population is foreign-born. The largest single group of immigrants, almost 11 million, up over 20 percent since 2000, is from Mexico. A distant second is China, with 1.7 million, a rare group whose numbers actually fell. The largest percentage increase — almost 40 percent, to 1.4 million — is from India.

The immigration has had some peculiar side effects. One is that, because immigrants are generally younger, the percentage of the U.S. population over 65 has fallen, a situation that the baby boomers will soon rectify.

While Congress can disagree over immigration, these figures show that lawmakers can’t easily ignore it. The reason that immigration has become a national issue is that it is increasingly a nationwide phenomenon.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at) Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,