The Bronx, El Paso and Boulder show different immigration fortunes

Immigration, like politics, is local, making it difficult to forge a shared national experience. I compare the granting of permanent legal residency in 2019 in three localities: the Bronx, El Paso County (TX), and Boulder County (CO). You can see dramatic differences in profiles.


The Bronx is the most balanced of the three localities, with representation roughly matching national distribution visas in employment, the two family categories and refugees/asylees. Its diversity (lottery) participation, 7% of total, is almost twice the national rate of 4%. The Bronx represents the traditional image of immigration to America.

El Paso has much more family related immigration than the other two, and than the national rate (El Paso’s both sum to 75%; national is 69%). Interestingly, El Paso’s source of immigrants is not more Hispanic than the other two.

In all localities, Asia is by far the biggest source (average of 36% vs Hispanic 20%).

Boulder is markedly weighed more towards employment visas, with 33% vs the national rate of 14%. And it has distinctly fewer diversity and refugee/asylee immigrants. Boulder’s high employment rate represents where many people want immigration to go. Arlington County (VA) and King County (basically Seattle) both have employment rates of 30% or higher vs the national rate of 14%. Employment visa patterns may be a good indicator of where the country’s economy is growing the most.

Data from here.

A tiny explanation of what is going on at the Mexican border

I am going to explain in very few words what is happening at the Mexican border and the context. I have followed immigration for over a decade.

Immediate situation: The number of people trying to cross the border illegally has risen, but not to the highest levels experienced. ICE and other U.S. agencies are bureaucracies which cannot be expected to manage efficiently, consistently, or effectively major surges. Immigration and border enforcement are subject to complicated laws and staffing levels. A pattern of surges has been in place for 30 plus years. I doubt that surges are mainly driven by U.S. policies at the time.

An example of the unreality of the political pronouncements is that much is made of the migrants with COVID, but 15 million people cross the border legally each month and are never tested.

The context: Both right and left are more interested in arousing their constituencies than in longer term solutions. Most activists of both sides feel better off without a long-term solution. Yet, both Dems and Reps in Congress have proposed long term solutions which include legalization of substantially all unauthorized persons in the U.S. I have discussed this here. Among the relative handful of politicians who follow immigration closely, I think there is a lot of agreement about where immigration should be heading.

For 100 years + a transnational economy has existed involving Hispanic workers. This reality has never been addressed by legislation, including NAFTA. The economic and social incentives for Mexicans and Central Americans to migrate to the U.S., perhaps just for labor and not settlement, are and will be very high. I do not believe that the U.S. can successfully improve social/economic conditions there. This is the largest transnational labor market among advanced nations in the world.

Your Congress person is likely unable to articulate a coherent vision of comprehensive reform. We are a nation of immigrants. For us not to discuss immigration coherently is like Microsoft executives not to discuss the future of information technology.

What happened with the Hispanic and Asian vote in November?

Analysis of the Presidential election by David Shor  In November 2020. Hispanic support dropped by 8 to 9 percent. The jury is still out on Asian Americans. We’re waiting on data from California before we say anything. But there’s evidence that there was something like a 5 percent decline in Asian American support for Democrats. [PFR: Due to social conservatism and anti-Communism of many Hispanics and Asians, I am surprised that the decline is this modest.]

Democrats gained somewhere between half a percent to one percent among non-college whites and roughly 7 percent among white college graduates (which is kind of crazy). Our support among African Americans declined by something like one to 2 percent. And then Hispanic support dropped by 8 to 9 percent. The jury is still out on Asian Americans. We’re waiting on data from California before we say anything. But there’s evidence that there was something like a 5 percent decline in Asian American support for Democrats, likely with a lot of variance among subgroups. There were really big declines in Vietnamese areas, for example.

One important thing to know about the decline in Hispanic support for Democrats is that it was pretty broad. This isn’t just about Cubans in South Florida. It happened in New York and California and Arizona and Texas. Really, we saw large drops all over the country. But it was notably larger in some places than others. In the precinct-level data, one of the things that jumps out is that places where a lot of voters have Venezuelan or Colombian ancestry saw much larger swings to the GOP than basically anywhere else in the country. The Colombian and Venezuelan shifts were huge.

One of my favorite examples is Doral, which is a predominantly Venezuelan and Colombian neighborhood in South Florida. One precinct in that neighborhood went for Hillary Clinton by 40 points in 2016 and for Trump by ten points in 2020. One thing that makes Colombia and Venezuela different from much of Latin America is that socialism as a brand has a very specific, very high salience meaning in those countries. It’s associated with FARC paramilitaries in Colombia and the experience with President Maduro in Venezuela. So I think one natural inference is that the increased salience of socialism in 2020 — with the rise of AOC and the prominence of anti-socialist messaging from the GOP — had something to do with the shift among those groups.

As for the story with Hispanics overall, one thing that really comes out very clearly in survey data that we’ve done is that it really comes down to ideology. So when you look at self-reported ideology — just asking people, “Do you identify as liberal, moderate, or conservative” — you find that there aren’t very big racial divides. Roughly the same proportion of African American, Hispanic, and white voters identify as conservative. But white voters are polarized on ideology, while nonwhite voters haven’t been. Something like 80 percent of white conservatives vote for Republicans. But historically, Democrats have won nonwhite conservatives, often by very large margins. What happened in 2020 is that nonwhite conservatives voted for Republicans at higher rates; they started voting more like white conservatives.

the fundamental problem is that Democrats have been relying on the support of roughly 90 percent of Black voters and 70 percent of Hispanic voters. So if Democrats elevate issues or theories that a large minority of nonwhite voters reject, it’s going to be hard to keep those margins.

Four ways for broad legalization of unauthorized persons

Now that both parties have released at least the outlines of a plan, we now see several ways to legalize the status of a larger number of unauthorized persons. I draw in part on a Migration Policy Institute report. All approaches implicitly recognized that 60% of unauthorized persons are estimated to have been in the U.S for at least ten years; hence, a legalization policy must be broad-based to avoid being severely draconian.

A relatively fast all-inclusive Biden policy. Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 proposes this approach. This bill, per the White House, “allows undocumented individuals to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes. Dreamers, TPS holders, and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements are eligible for green cards immediately under the legislation.” Generally, persons had to be in the U.S. on January 1, 2021. The person will wait five years on a temporary visa before getting a green card. Citizenship is then accessible.

A narrower policy, as applied by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. Of the approximately 3.2 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States at the time of the bill’s passage, 1.6 million legalized through IRCA’s general legalization, and another 1.1 million farmworkers and 38,000 Cubans and Haitians. Applicants had to demonstrate continuous residence since 1982 and meet certain criteria.

Per the MPI, the farmworker eligibility provisions were considered too lenient and as inviting fraud. The accompanying employer sanctions for hiring unauthorized immigrants proved easy for employers to evade and difficult for the government to enforce. The resources for border enforcement included in the legislation were inadequate. The unauthorized population surged in the 1990s and early 2000s. I describe why this surge happened here.

The relatively slow new Republican Dignity bill approach. I outlined here a draft of this act which was just released. Provisions includes, for all undocumented persons, a 10-year enrollment in a temporary program, followed by a five year program before gaining regular green card status. Citizenship appears not available. The draft act is silent on the cut-off date to be eligible.

A more narrow, but fast working old registry approach. The MPI says that Registry has been part of U.S. immigration law since 1929 when the Registry Act was enacted. Registry aims to resolve the issue of legal status for those who have been in the country for an extended period. The rationale is akin to that of statutes of limitation, which do not exist in immigration law. That is, that at a certain point no further public interest is served by pursuing long-ago violations. In the past, the registry date has been between 8 and 18 years prior to the passage of the registry act. If the date is 10 years before 1/1/21, it would include about 60% of the unauthorized population.

Immigrant-related higher ed enrollment

Here are some figures for immigrant-related students in higher ed now. Immigrant-origin students accounted for 60% of the increase in all post-secondary education students between 2000 to 2018. These are not international students (who total about 1.1 million higher ed students).

The President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration found that fewer than half of the estimated 454,000 undocumented students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities were eligible for DACA.

Can unauthorized students access state colleges? This portal shows how each state is recognizing unauthorized students regarding tuition and financial aid for state higher ed. Three very large states – CA, NY and TX – provide “comprehensive access.” Only three states – AL, GA and SC – prohibit access to state colleges. About 20 states are restrictive to some degree, 16 states offer comprehensive access, and the rest either have no policy are in the middle. I personally doubt meaningfulness of this analysis for many states.

The size of the immigrant-related higher ed population. From the Alliance: The United States is home to 5.3 million immigrant-origin students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions. First-generation immigrants, individuals born abroad who immigrated to the U.S, account for 1.7 million students. Second-generation immigrants, persons born in the U.S. to one or more immigrants parents, account for 3.6 million students.

Why today’s Mexican border crisis is part of a predictable pattern




Here are pretty extensive excerpts from an insightful article by Cristobal Ramón , Yari Gutierrez on our chronic vulnerability to migrant surges at borders. The 2018 – 2019 surge under Trump was larger than what we are seeing now. In both cases we have been entirely reactive rather than proactive. (Go here for a summary of asylum in the U.S.)

The U.S. applies stringent border policies such as interdiction and detention to deter large flows of migrants who are fleeing humanitarian or political crises in their home countries and seeking asylum in the United States. However, these measures usually fail to meet these goals since they do not impact the root causes of these migrant flows or establish protocols for managing sudden shifts in migration patterns, showing that active management of migrant flows requires strategies that extend beyond border deterrence to handle humanitarian crises.

Our asylum system dates from the Refugee Act of 1980. The Act did not anticipate that future waves of migrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border would overwhelm the new system, leaving the U.S. government without measures to shift resources to manage sudden upsurges in asylum requests.

This issue first emerged in 1979 and 1980 when 25,000 asylum seekers from Cuba and Haiti arrived in Florida during what is known as the Mariel Boatlift, when the Fidel Castro regime’s decision to allow Cubans to leave the country precipitated the exodus of 125,000 individuals from Cuba and another 25,000 Haitians fleeing the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier arrived in South Florida. For the Haitians the U.S. focused on interdiction at sea.

In 2014, there was increase in the number of unaccompanied children and families fleeing violence in Central America arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Obama tried to coordinate with the Mexican government and built detention centers.

In response to a steady rise in family unit apprehensions in 2018, Trump sent the armed forces to the border, separated families at the border, and curtailed the ability of unauthorized immigrants to access asylum. Despite the severity of these measures, family unit apprehensions continued to increase through the end of 2018.

Congress should consider making these two policy areas a core component of the nation’s humanitarian system, including hiring more immigration judges, establishing protocols to rapidly shift asylum resources to the U.S. border, and maintaining programs that strengthen human security in countries migrants are fleeing.

From History Shows the U.S. Doesn’t Do Well at Preparing for Migration Crises
By Cristobal Ramón , Yari Gutierrez Jan 22, 2019

Immigrants and health status in New York City

A study was just released on the health risks and immigrant demographics in Brooklyn and Queens, by census district. The studied correlated health outcomes with social and economic conditions such as poverty status, ability to speak English, level of education, housing conditions, and health insurance. “The healthcare literature show a high degree of correlation: if a neighborhood has one or two of the health indicators described here, they are likely to be vulnerable on the other measures.”

The study focused on non-naturalized immigrants. Naturalized immigrants have health status which is similar to U.S. born persons.

These are findings of just one area in Brooklyn: Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights. This is in southwest Brooklyn, near Bensonhurst, Borough Park, and Gravesend Bay

About 40 percent (48,000) of the residents in this neighborhood are immigrants, of which 28,000 are naturalized citizens. On average, naturalized citizens in this neighborhood have lived in the United States twice as long as noncitizens (30 years compared to 15 years). About 15,000, or 12 percent, of the total population in Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights live in mixed-status households, with at least one member of the household being undocumented.

Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights has the highest poverty rate of all the neighborhoods in Brooklyn. One-third (33 percent) of noncitizens are in poverty compared to 24 percent for all noncitizens in Brooklyn. Other striking disparities are the number of noncitizens in Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights without a high school education (40 percent) and those living in overcrowded housing (17 percent). This neighborhood has relatively lower rankings for percent without health insurance (ranked 12) and undocumented (ranked 8).

Homeland Security statement about the Mexican border

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a statement on March 16 about the situation on the Mexican border. Here are a few exceprts. The numbers below are 96,974 apprehensions at the border in Feb 2021. The prior high was in May, 2019, at 132, 956.

We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years. We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children. We are securing our border, executing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) public health authority to safeguard the American public and the migrants themselves, and protecting the children. We have more work to do.

This is not new. We have experienced migration surges before – in 2019, 2014, and before then as well. Since April 2020, the number of encounters at the southwest border has been steadily increasing.

Single adults (68,732 in Feb 2021). Single adults from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are swiftly expelled to Mexico….The expulsion of single adults does not pose an operational challenge for the Border Patrol because of the speed and minimal processing burden of their expulsion.

Families (18,945 in Feb 2021). Families apprehended at the southwest border are also currently being expelled

Unaccompanied children 9,297 in Feb 2021). A child who is under the age of 18 and not accompanied by their parent or legal guardian is considered under the law to be an unaccompanied child. We are encountering six- and seven-year-old children, for example, arriving at our border without an adult.

In more than 80 percent of cases, the child has a family member in the United States. In more than 40 percent of cases, that family member is a parent or legal guardian. These are children being reunited with their families who will care for them.

The children then go through immigration proceedings where they are able to present a claim for relief under the law.

The Border Patrol facilities have become crowded with children and the 72-hour timeframe for the transfer of children from the Border Patrol to HHS is not always met. HHS has not had the capacity to intake the number of unaccompanied children we have been encountering

Farm workers and immigration reform

Farming, especially corporate produce farming, is heavily dependent on immigrant labor. Temporary farmworker visas (the H-2A visa) are up. Over half of farm workers, some half million, are estimated to be unauthorized.

To protect its farm workforce, the state of California has made a special effort to get these workers vaccinated. Per the NY Times, “The challenges to getting farmworkers vaccinated go well beyond worries about their immigration status. The odds of being able to sign up for a vaccine online are low in a population that often lacks broadband access and faces language barriers. Many cannot easily reach vaccination sites in urban areas because they do not have reliable transportation or the ability to leave work in the middle of the day.”

The Biden immigration bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. aims to protect all workers, including unauthorized from exploitation. Per Politico, over 70 percent of federal labor standards investigations of farms found violations, including wage theft and inadequate housing and transportation, according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute. “It’s pretty clear that the lack of a legal status leads to the ability for employers to break the law against you without much worry of getting in trouble,” Costa said. “They fear retaliation and can’t speak up in the workplace because that could lead to their deportation and they’re afraid to report violations to government officials because they don’t want to interact with officials over deportation fears.”

Higher education attainment of immigrants

Immigrant education creates a hour-glass profile. Immigrants in the U.S. as a whole have lower levels of education than the U.S.-born population. This average lower level is very influenced the Mexican and Central American immigration in the 1990 – 2007 period. Since then, the immigration flow of persons with little formal education slowed considerably, while immigration from Asia, with higher educational status, increased. Today, the average education of recent immigrants is very likely higher than that of U.S. born persons. (Go here.) The table below is for 2018.

The college-educated immigranyt population is especially notable in California, where 31% of the entire college educated population is foreign-born. Nationwide, foreign born workers were 34% of college educated workers in computers and mathematics and 25% in architecture and engineering. By comparison, immigrants comprise 17% of the entire workforce and 14% of the entire population. (Go here.)