U.S. Sees Record Decline In Foreign-Born Americans The Census bureau this week released figures showing that the number of foreign-born Americans in this country tapered off slightly in 2008. It marks the first time in more than three decades the U.S. has seen such a decline. Experts say that a dwindling workforce makes the United States less appealing than it once was. Demetrios Papademetriou, president and co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute,.explains the census findings.

U.S. Sees Record Decline In Foreign-Born Americans

U.S. Sees Record Decline In Foreign-Born Americans

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The Census bureau this week released figures showing that the number of foreign-born Americans in this country tapered off slightly in 2008. It marks the first time in more than three decades the U.S. has seen such a decline. Experts say that a dwindling workforce makes the United States less appealing than it once was. Demetrios Papademetriou, president and co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute,.explains the census findings.


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, he was escorted from the presidential palace in his pajamas after a coup nearly three months ago, but now he is back and demanding a return to the presidency. The latest on former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the Honduran political crisis in a moment.

But first, how this country is continuing to change. New Census data shows that the number of people coming to America declined last year, that's for the first time in more than 30 years. That means that the overall percentage of foreign-born residents is static for the first time in many years. Joining us to talk more about this is Demetrios Papademetriou. He is the president and co-founder of The Migration Policy Institute. Welcome, thank you so much for stopping in.

Mr. DEMETRIOS PAPADEMETRIOU (The Migration Policy Institute): My pleasure.

MARTIN: Your organization is dedicated exclusively to the study of international migration pattern. So, tell us what is the reason for this drop?

Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU: Well, you know, the largest proportion of the explanation is, of course, the, you know, the economy. Unlike what many people may have thought in the past, certain types of immigration is very responsive to the business cycle. So when the jobs in the United States started to disappear two - specifically two groups of immigrants stopped coming at anywhere near the rates that they used to come. The biggest number of course is illegal immigrants.

The second but significant number is people on temporary work contracts both at the high end, the middle end and the low end. So, you take these numbers, you know, accommodating the natural churning that always takes place, people come, people go. And what you have is a fairly static number. Now I also want to emphasize that these are 2008 figures. So, you know, we still don't have information as to what is happening during the course of this year where we're likely to see, you know, much larger changes than what we experienced last time.

MARTIN: Well, that makes sense because it's - the official start of the recession was I think about December 2007. So, it shows I guess that immigration was immediately responsive to that reality.

Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU: It's exactly right and the reason for that is because the first sector that got hit particularly construction and manufacturing. They are also the sectors in which immigrants and particularly illegal immigrants are overwhelmingly found - disproportionately found in those two sectors.

So the effect was almost immediate, you know, after a few months people, you know, sort of saying don't come. So, this is people who go back and people who are coming in. Fewer people are coming in, some people are going back and that's what you have now.

MARTIN: The data for those who want to look it up for themselves is the Census Bureau's American Community Survey that looks at year to year growth in the U.S. and which countries are most - or do we know this? Which countries are more likely to be affected by this slowdown in immigration?

Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU: Well, I think that we can speculate on this and on the basis of other data systems. People from the neighborhood as it were Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. About 50 percent of all immigration to the United States comes essentially from the Americas minus Canada. Another 30, 30 something percent comes from Asia. The rest is Canada, Europe and the rest of the world. So, essentially what we're talking about are people from the neighborhood have not been coming at the rates that they used to come.

MARTIN: There has been so much discussion about increased enforcement measures. These have been big stories and many jurisdictions around the country generate a lot of headlines, a lot of intense feeling particularly, you know, the raids. Do you have any sense of whether increased enforcement measures are playing a role in these numbers?

Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU: I think that you have to accommodate that enforcement both at the border and in the interior have had some effect on this. But if you were to order to rank order what's most important, the largest, the majority of the explanation is the economy. Probably the vast majority of the explanation.

So, of course, we're going to test the proposition as to whether the border controls and the interior controls have been more effective or not once the economy takes off again. And then we'll see, you know, when people try to come back in, whether enforcement is going to deter some of them from trying to do the trick.

MARTIN: Now you mentioned that a lot of this is word of mouth, people will say don't come. There's no work for you here. But you also say that sometimes people leave. Do we have any sense of how many people are, in fact, leaving? I mean, there's been an article of faith that people don't self-deport as it were?

Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU: And I think that it's more than an article of faith. I mean this is one of those things, you know, that actually happen. The reasons for people leaving have much more to do with what is happening at their country of origin and what is happening at the country of destination, okay? So, you have Brazilians in a fairly steady, not large, but steady stream, you know, leaving the country since 2006.

This is much more explainable by the Brazilian economy, you know, sort of taking off than, you know, somehow the United States targeting Brazilians, which, you know, have no evidence that this is, you know, what has been going on. Also, we're looking always at Mexican statistics, both at people who come into Mexico and we assume that virtually all of them are Mexicans coming from the United States, and people who leave Mexico.

And we see over there, you know, sort of gyrations over the past many years, but no particular change. So we know that people go to Mexico, okay? But, you know, this is the back and forth.

MARTIN: And finally, we were talking about this a little bit before the broadcast, you're saying that this is actually a very incomplete story, for to determine whether there are really long-term trends here, we need to look at additional information. What should we be looking for to determine whether there is something long term and transformative going on here?

Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU: First of all, we should be looking for the immigration service release and its data for the people who came in the country from last October to this October. And they should be released in the next month or two. Then we're going to be looking at the CPS, which is another sort of data…

MARTIN: Current Population Survey.

Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU: Current Population Survey. They ask a series, a battery of questions about immigration status in the spring of each year. And this is something that, you know, a lot of statisticians, you know, have managed to manage and speculate very, very effectively with that number.

MARTIN: All right, well, keep up posted.

Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU: It has been my pleasure, thank you.

MARTIN: Demetrios Papademetriou is the president of the Migration Policy Institute, and he was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Thank you again.

Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU: You're welcome.

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