Frank D. Bean, University of California – Irvine
Susan K. Brown, University of California – Irvine
Rubén Rumbaut, University of California – Irvine
Introduction: As the United States begins the 21st century, it remains the world’s leading immigration country. Almost 35 million legal and unauthorized migrants lived in the United States in 2000 (the latest year for which migration data are available on a global basis), a figure 2.7 times larger than the number in any other country (United Nations 2002). Although other nations have higher proportions of foreign-born residents (e.g., nearly 25 percent in Australia and 20 percent in Canada), the globally dominant position of the United States in regard to numbers of new immigrants reinforces its self-image as a “nation of immigrants,” as does the fact that immigration is generally seen as contributing to the country’s economic and demographic strength (Smith and Edmonston 1997). However, over the past three decades, more and more new arrivals possessing non-European origins (more than four-fifth are Asian and Latino), relatively low levels of education, and illegal statuses at entry have come to the country. These changes have fueled public concerns and led to heated debates over whether U.S. admissions and settlement-related policies ought to be modified.
Such disputes have tended to center on three broad issues: (1) Are too many (and the wrong kinds of) immigrants coming? (2) Are those coming negatively affecting the employment and earnings prospects of either natives or earlier immigrants? And, (3) are those coming less likely to become an integral part of mainstream America compared with earlier waves of immigrants, either owing to insufficient educational preparation for today’s post-industrial economy or to less inclination to integrate, especially socioculturally (Bean and Stevens 2003)? Of these questions, the one hardest to answer (and thus, the most controversial) is the last, mostly because it is still too soon to tell how the children and grandchildren of the newcomers are going to fare in the United States. Most of the new immigrants have arrived so recently that many of 2 their children, let alone their grandchildren, have yet to reach adulthood. If it takes at least a couple of generations for new immigrant groups to become fully involved in the American mainstream, not enough time has elapsed to discern how the descendants of the new groups are turning out economically, culturally, or politically.