Census: Immigrants Head for Rural, Suburban Towns

Thousands of workers are forging new patterns of movement in the U.S.

By Julianne Hing Dec 17, 2010

Big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago all are home to well-established immigrant communities. That is no secret. But today immigrants are also fanning out beyond metropolitan centers into rural and suburban neighborhoods, according to new Census data released this week.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that immigrant populations rose more than 60 percent in rural and suburban towns where prior to 2000 they made up less than 5 percent of the population. Big cities like Los Angeles saw zero growth.

Immigrants are forging new patterns of movement in the U.S. in part to follow the low-wage work like agricultural and meat processing or service and construction work.

The numbers help explain the growth of anti-immigrant legislation that small towns have been passing in recent years. A report put out earlier this year by the Migration Policy Institute explained that white folks’ anxieties about rapid demographic shifts was the catalyst behind towns’ anti-immigrant ordinances. Seth Wessler explained:

The MPI report finds that between 2000 and 2009, 107 U.S. towns, cities, or counties passed anti-immigration laws…Those cities and counties that passed such laws were likely to have seen recent and rapid growth in the number of immigrants living there. According to MPI, the only predictor of where local laws will emerge is the rate of growth of immigrants.

"Not surprisingly," MPI reports, "growth of the immigrant population as a share of the total population appears to be an important provocation for restrictive ordinances."

These factors are really just lumped on top of fears about changing communities. Crime is not actually higher because of immigration but individual incidents of crime, or the presence of day laborers on street corners, are used as animating tools by restrictionist groups. Support for the resolutions are drummed up by local politicians and demagogues, as well as national groups that often play a role in drafting the bills, who concoct a narrative about dangerous criminal immigrants. And the campaigns tend to be drenched in vitriolic, hateful, dehumanizing language, namely a dynamic use of the word "illegal" to describe immigrants and the persistent assertion that immigrants are criminals.

The Census data also showed that 48 percent of those born in the U.S. last year were babies of color. Just twenty percent of Americans over 65 are people of color. Demographic shifts in this country are an inevitability.

Anti-immigrant legislation, though, isn’t. Earlier this year the Texas town of Tomball politely declined to pass several anti-immigration bills that had been proposed. The city council said they didn’t think such policies would do much to enhance their town’s public image, and said they didn’t want the headache of expensive lawsuits that tend to follow such bills.