The first 2010 Decennial Census data was made available this week, and the U.S. population rose 9.7% since 2000. As a result of population changes, reapportionment will likely shift the political balance in Congress. Some states (Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina) will gain seats, in part due to the growth in their Latino populations over the past decade. While many media outlets have focused on the fact that the states gaining Congressional seats tend to be red states, and those losing seats are blue, immigrant advocates have pointed out that Members of Congress from those states with growing Latino populations, regardless of party affiliation, will have to be responsive to their Latino constituencies if they want to keep their seats.

According to NALEO Educational Fund Executive Director Arturo Vargas:

The growth of the Latino population is reshaping the political geography in states that are gaining Congressional seats. Even in states such as California, Illinois or New York, which are not gaining or are losing seats, the increase in Latino numbers has helped minimize Congressional losses.

At the same time the new Census data showed some increases in the Latino population, other reports pointed out that, after growing steadily for three decades, immigration to the U.S. has slowed, and the recession of 2007-2009 has had a significant impact on immigrant populations.

These are the results of a new Brookings Institute report entitled, The Impact of the Great Recession on Metropolitan Immigration Trends.

It’s generally understood that immigration ebbs and flows with the economy. During periods of economic growth when jobs are plentiful, immigration to the U.S. tends to increase. Conversely, during economic downturns and when unemployment levels are high, immigration decreases. This new report provides additional evidence that immigration levels were down during the recession, particularly in areas where the economy was especially bad.

Since the 1970s, the foreign born population grew steadily, and accelerated during the 1990s. During the early 2000s the U.S. foreign born population grew by nearly 7.5 million people (compared to 11 million in the 1990s) and then slowed with the onset of the recession in 2007. Immigration flows came to a standstill between 2007 and 2008. There has been growth since, but growth has been more moderate than prior to the recession.

The Brookings report also looked at population changes in the top 100 metropolitan areas of the U.S. and, not surprisingly, found that areas that “weathered” the recession well continued to receive immigrants, and metropolitan areas that suffered economically have seen decreasing numbers of immigrants.

Austin, Houston, Raleigh and Seattle were identified as metro areas that have had the strongest economic performance during the recession, and they continued to see gains (albeit more modest ones) in their immigrant populations from 2007-2009. Houston had the greatest gain (74,000), followed by Miami (54,000), Dallas (50,000), Philadelphia (45,000), and Atlanta (42,000). Jackson, MS and Birmingham, AL have smaller numbers of immigrants, but saw large increases of 50 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

On the other hand, Phoenix, Riverside-San Bernardino, and Tampa had strong immigrant growth prior to the recession, but lost immigrants (and US citizens) when their local economies experienced a downturn and the housing bubble burst. Phoenix experienced the single greatest loss – 64,000 immigrants, or nearly nine percent of its foreign-born population.

According to the authors, “As the country moves into recovery mode, immigrant settlement patterns are likely to reflect economic growth across metropolitan areas.”

The poverty rate for immigrants rose during the recession; 34 of the 100 metro areas saw an increase in the size of the poor immigrant population. It also appears that the Mexican-born immigrant population declined about 1 percentage point, the percentage of immigrants whose primary language is Spanish declined, and the number of immigrants with less than a high school education increased slightly. The number of naturalized U.S. citizens increased slightly.

All of this demographic information comes at a time when states are poised to pass Arizona SB1070-like legislation in an attempt to rid their states of unwanted populations. Phoenix’s immigrant population declined, but most experts assert that the decrease in the immigrant population is due to the economy and not immigration enforcement. Nonetheless, the states considering anti-immigrant legislation will have to reconsider whether forcing out immigrants is worth potentially losing a Congressional seat, federal funding for schools, roads, and infrastructure, and its reputation.

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