The Washington Post carries a story today about widely varying estimates of the size of foreign born populations in the United States. Getting a realistic count can depend on natural disasters that induce many hiding in the shadows to come forward. It appears not hard for people to come up with estimates double that of the Current Population Survey (CPS), but with no heard research documentation.
It start with an example of a woman who has been an exclusively American citizen for nine years but still calls herself Guatemalan. The U.S. Census counts as Guatamalans those who were born there. Embassies here count also children born here because they may claim citizenship their parents’ country of origin.
The 2000 Census says that 105,000 Salvadoreans live in the Washington, DC area. The Current Population Survey, conducted monthly by the Census Bureau, says the number averaged about 130,000 over the past three years. The Salvadorean embassy says 500,000. In addition to passports issued, the ambassador of Salvador bases his calculations on the number of Salvadorans who registered with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for temporary permission to live in the United States after earthquakes rocked El Salvador in 2001. Nationwide, the number of registrants is 244,000. But, León surmises that only half of the people eligible for the temporary residence program after the disaster signed up for it.
Then the ambassador points to a study showing that $1.2 billion flowed into Latin America from immigrants living in the District, Maryland and Virginia in 2004. Most of that went to El Salvador, León said, noting that Salvadorans living in Virginia send home more money annually than those in any state except California. The number of Salvadorans in the Washington region must be far higher then census-based estimates to have sent such a large sum in just one year, the ambassador said.
Embassy officials say the census vastly undercounts immigrant populations, which have skyrocketed since 2000, when the most accurate and detailed figures were released. The Peruvian general consul estimates 70,000 vs. 23,000 in the CPS. Embassy officials say that no matter the number, their communities’ populations have shot up exponentially in recent years. Talavera, for example, said the Peruvian Embassy issues 40 percent more national identity cards than it did in 2001.
Experts reject claims that immigrant population figures could be several times higher than the census numbers or than the data derived from the less comprehensive Current Population Survey, which polls 50,000 U.S. households each month. Enrique Escorza, the Mexican general consul in Washington, oversees a region that includes the District and all of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. He puts the Mexican community in that region at 250,000, more than twice the 2000 Census count for the same area.