Document date: November 01, 2009
Released online: December 04, 2009
This study examines immigrant integration through the lens of community-based organizations. Based on interviews with nonprofit leaders and an analysis of data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the study found that immigrant-serving nonprofits provide a wide range of programs and services to foreign-born communities which promote the social and political mobility of newcomers. Findings also suggest a potential spatial mismatch between immigrant-serving organizations and the people they serve. The organizations are concentrated in the metropolitan area while immigrant populations are growing in the outer suburbs. Moreover, different political and administrative structures and policies affect the ability of these nonprofits to serve their constituents.
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The United States has undergone unprecedented demographic shifts in the past four decades as immigrants stream in from a far wider range of countries than before. Since 1960, the proportion of the foreign-born population more than doubled—from 5.4 percent in 1960 to 12.4 percent in 2006. The Latino population now represents more than half (54 percent) of foreign-born residents, while Asians account for about a quarter (27 percent). Meanwhile, the share of immigrants born in Europe has declined to less than 15 percent compared with averages above 75 percent in the 1960 Census.
Newcomers enter the country through the traditional immigrant gateway cities of New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago. But new gateways have emerged since the 1990s too—among them, greater metropolitan Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. (Singer 2004).
The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is becoming a primary immigration destination, ranking eighth among the top immigrant-receiving communities (Singer 2009). Since 2000, the region has received 3.5 percent of all new U.S.-bound immigrants. About 20.5 percent of metropolitan D.C.’s residents are foreign born, compared with 12.5 percent nationwide.
About three-fourths of the D.C. region’s foreign born population is either Latino (39.4 percent) or Asian (34.5 percent). More than 145,000 Salvadorans—roughly a third of all the region’s Latino immigrants—call the D.C. area home. The next largest groups come from India (63,000), Korea (59,300), Mexico (50,300), Vietnam (46,200), and China (42,000). While African immigrants make up less than 4 percent of the foreign born in the United States, they make up almost 15 percent here.
The Washington, D.C., environs, particularly its outer suburbs, have witnessed dramatic changes in minority populations in recent decades.
Within the District itself, Census data indicate, the foreign-born population has held steady at roughly 12.9 percent since 2000. Likewise, both Arlington County and the city of Alexandria have experienced almost no growth in their foreign-born population, which accounts for a little over a quarter of the population.
However, a very different story is unfolding in Maryland and the outer counties of Northern Virginia. On the Maryland side, the foreign-born population of Prince George’s County has grown from 13.8 percent in 2000 to 18.8 percent in 2007 and in Montgomery County from 26.7 percent in 2000 to nearly 29 percent in 2007. In Virginia, 11.5 percent of Prince William County’s population was foreign born in 2000, compared with 21.9 percent in 2007. Loudoun County has seen a similar sharp upswing as foreign-born residents increased from 11.3 percent of the total population in 2000 to more than 21 percent in the 2007.
The growth of immigrant populations in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland and in Prince William and Loudoun counties in Virginia has coincided with the rise in housing prices and cost of living in the District and in the inner suburbs of Arlington and Alexandria. More affordable home prices, job growth, and decentralization have made the region’s outer suburbs more affordable than those in the inner core (Singer, Wilson, and DeRenzis 2009).
These demographic shifts have changed the region’s—and the nation’s—social, economic, and political landscape. While public discourse and immigration policies have mainly addressed law enforcement and border control, and, to a lesser degree, employment and access to public programs, scant attention has been given to how immigrants weave their way into the civic and political fabric of American life. This study seeks to address this gap.
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