Suburbia: Land of Immigrants

Foreign-born populations in the U.S. are spreading out across the country, settling in suburbs and smaller cities

The foreign-born population is growing in the U.S., and spreading. About 40 million foreign-born residents live in the U.S. as of 2010, according to a recent Brookings Institution analysis of American Community Survey data. Roughly 8.8 million were added to the population between 2000 and 2010. But unlike counts in the past, more and more of these immigrants are living outside typical immigration hotspots like Los Angeles and New York. They’re moving to smaller cities and the suburbs of larger cities.

 

Brookings Institution

 

About 51 percent of foreign-born U.S. residents live in the suburbs of large metropolitan areas, a slight jump from 48 percent in 2000. And the percentages in metro areas with the largest foreign-born populations—New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and Houston—saw their numbers drop from a total of 43 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2010. Those hotspots are getting a little less hot.

Overall, 21 metropolitan areas saw foreign-born populations grow by at least 100,000 over the last decade. New high growth areas include Baltimore, Orlando, and Las Vegas, which each saw growth rates above 70 percent.

That growth is spreading widely. Of the largest 100 metropolitan areas in the U.S., 47 saw increases in their foreign-born populations of at least 50 percent since 2000. And as those numbers grow and spread, it’s increasingly the suburban areas of large metros that are absorbing the growth. Of the top 95 metropolitan areas, the suburbs of 70 are home to more than half of their foreign-born populations.

Immigrants are decreasingly an urban class. Between 1980 and 2010, the share of foreign-born residents living in cities has steadily dropped from 41.1 percent to 33.2 percent.

Nine metros saw their immigrant populations increase by more than 100 percent over the last decade, among them Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Cape Coral-Fort Myers, and Little Rock.

And yet, even these figures may be undercounting reality, with presumably significant amounts of illegal immigrants not being counted in American Community Surveys. Based on reported figures, only 44 percent of foreign-born residents were legal citizens in 2010. So as foreign-born populations spread around the country, it’s reasonable to assume that illegal or undocumented immigrants are spreading as well.

As this population grows and increasingly suburbanizes, places like Scranton and Little Rock and Birmingham are going to have to learn to cope with their newfound reality as landing-pad cities. But as they do, they’ll have plenty of company among the suburbs of smaller cities in trying to figure out how best to respond to and work with these new immigrant populations.

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.