The New York Times



Record Immigration Is Changing the Face of New York's Neighborhoods
January 24, 2005
The immigrants who remade New York in the 1990's are now
indelibly shaping its future, according to new city figures
showing that 6 in 10 babies born in the city since 2000
have at least one foreign-born parent. The foreign-born
groups growing fastest through immigration, including
Mexicans, Guyanese and Bangladeshis, also have among the
highest birthrates, the figures show. 
Even for a city with a storied immigrant past, the sheer
size and diversity of the present foreign-born population
is greater than ever before, according to the most detailed
and sweeping portrait of immigrant New York ever to be
issued by the City Planning Department. Demographers
counted 2.9 million immigrant residents in 2000 and
estimate the current number is at least 3.2 million, a
record high. 
The report, to be released today as a 265-page book called
"The Newest New Yorkers 2000: Immigrant New York in the New
Millennium," offers a comprehensive look at the
foreign-born residents who have transformed the city's
neighborhoods, schools and businesses, bringing sari shops
to Queens, halal pizza to Brooklyn and Ghanaian preachers
to the Bronx. Unlike earlier city reports that dealt only
with legal immigrants recorded by federal authorities, this
analysis tries to capture legal, illegal and temporary
residents alike, combining census information, city housing
surveys and vital statistics to offer a fine-grained
topography of a global resettlement unmatched by any other
One result is the striking emergence of Mexicans as the
fifth largest immigrant group in the city. Their census
numbers quadrupled to 122,550 in the decade since 1990,
when they ranked 17th with 32,689. City demographers said
the true growth was still higher, possibly to a total of
200,000, and not expected to slow. Births to the city's
Mexican-born mothers - 6,408 in 2000 - are second only to
births to foreign-born Dominicans, who remained the most
numerous of the city's foreign-born groups at 369,000
residents, followed by the Chinese, the Jamaicans, and the
The report did not try to calculate rates of illegal
immigration for Mexicans or any other group, though Mr.
Salvo acknowledged that the large increase in the
Mexican-born population could not be accounted for by
recorded legal immigration. Jeffrey Passel, a demographer
with the Pew Hispanic Center who has studied the issue,
said that nationally, 80 to 85 percent of all Mexican
immigration since 1990 was undocumented, while among other
immigrant groups, a great majority had entered legally. 
"Any place that's getting a lot of new immigration from
Mexico, virtually all of it is undocumented," Mr. Passel
said, "and that certainly includes New York." 
Still, the city is home to only 1 percent of Mexicans in
the United States - compared with 54 percent of the
nation's Dominican-born immigrants and 45 percent of its
Bangladeshis, who are the city's fastest-growing group. Too
few to count in 1980, Bangladeshis surged to 17th place
from 42nd in the 1990's, mainly through diversity visas
issued by lottery. They now place 10th in the number of
births, with Pakistanis right behind them. One reason is
that nearly 80 percent of Bangladeshi households are
married-couple families, as are more than 6 in 10 Indian,
Chinese, and Pakistani homes, compared with only 31 percent
of native-born New Yorkers' households. 
At a time when a Congressional push for crackdowns on
illegal immigrants is converging with backlogs in legal
immigration, the report stresses the economic benefits that
sheer numbers of newcomers brought the city in recent
decades, replacing residents who died or moved out, filling
housing vacancies, revitalizing small businesses, and now
accounting for 43 percent of the city's work force. High
rates of migration to other states are still offset only by
a combination of foreign immigration and births increased
by immigrant fertility, the demographers said. 
"If we didn't have immigration, I don't know where we'd
be," said Joseph Salvo, director of the department's
population division and co-author of the report with Arun
Peter Lobo. "Immigrant flows have mitigated catastrophic
population losses in the 1970's, stabilized the city's
population in the 1980's, and helped the city reach a new
population peak of over 8 million in 2000." 
In the new world limned by the report, ethnicity and race
are moving categories. More than a third of the city's
black population is now foreign-born, the demographers
said, with Afro-Caribbeans, who represent 21 percent of the
city's immigrants, tending to replace African-Americans
moving outside the city and to southern states, and the
African-born population more than doubling to 92,400, or
more than 3 percent of the foreign born. 
Though Europeans increased in numbers through a surge of
refugees and the use of diversity visas, available to
people with low rates of recent immigration, like Poland,
they declined to 19 percent of the city's foreign-born
population from 24 percent. Had the countries of the former
Soviet Union been counted together, as in earlier reports,
immigrants born there would have been the city's fourth
largest group, with 164,000 residents. Instead, Russia
placed 10th, with 81,408, with Ukraine, Belarus and others
lower on the list. 
Nearly a third of city immigrants are from Latin America.
Yet they seem as much divided as united by their Hispanic
origins, with Mexicans joining the Chinese in Sunset Park,
Ecuadoreans in Jackson Heights beside Bangladeshis, and
Salvadorans and Guatemalans showing up in Far Rockaway. In
that seaside neighborhood, demographers also discovered
Russians, Ukrainians, Haitians, Israelis, Nigerians and
Jamaicans after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, noticing its
unusually high numbers of non-English speakers on a map of
literacy needs recently, asked them, "What's going on down
In his 1997 book "A Far Rockaway of the Heart," the
Bronx-born poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti might have provided
an answer: 
Everything changes and nothing changes 
Centuries end 
and all goes on 
as if nothing ever
And the fever of savage city life 
still grips the streets 
But I still hear singing... 
century ago, when immigrants from Southern and Eastern
Europe poured through Ellis Island, the foreign-born made
up more than 40 percent of the city's population - 80
percent when their American-born children were counted,
too. But the city's total population was then only 4.7
million. At 36 percent of today's 8 million New Yorkers -
up from a low of 18 percent in 1970 - the size of today's
foreign-born population is a record, and taken together,
foreign-born residents and their offspring account for more
than 55 percent of the city's population. More than 43
percent of the foreign-born arrived after 1990, and 80
percent after 1980. 
The same dynamic that New York experienced then is now
under way in the 31 counties of the metropolitan region,
the report said, especially in Hudson, Passaic, Union,
Middlesex, Bergen and Essex in New Jersey and Westchester
in New York, which all count the foreign-born as more than
one-fifth of their populations. 
Increasingly, some immigrant groups, like Jamaicans and
Haitians, are bypassing the city and settling directly in
adjacent counties, drawn to housing vacated by aging
European immigrants of earlier migrations and their
"New York City is as much a process as a place," the report
said of these crosscurrents. 
What Mr. Salvo called the report's "wall-to-wall
statistics" conveyed a strikingly mixed bag of
socioeconomic factors, with some large groups, like
Dominicans and Mexicans, far below the city's median
education and earnings, and others, like Filipinos and
Indians, far above it. In many groups, high rates of
homeownership coexist with high rates of overcrowding -
42.2 percent of Chinese households are owner-occupied, for
example, and 34.2 percent are overcrowded, compared with
citywide rates of 30.3 and 14.6 percent respectively. 
Just over one in four foreign-born Dominicans has completed
high school, and only 30 percent speak English very well.
Nearly a third are in poverty, compared with a citywide
rate of 21 percent, and 18.6 percent of households are on
public assistance, compared with 7.5 percent for all
Though Mexicans had the city's lowest median earnings
($16,737 for women, $21,284 for men) and lowest levels of
education (slightly more than a third graduated from high
school), they managed to bring their household incomes to
85 percent of the city median of $37,700, by having
multiple workers in overcrowded households. 
That was a strategy used even by highly educated
foreign-born groups like the city's 49,600 Filipinos, at
the other end of the spectrum. Median female earning among
Filipinos was $51,000, and median household income $70,500,
both the highest of any immigrant group. Though there are
only 60 Filipino men to every 100 Filipino women, the
Filipino poverty rate is only 5.3 percent, a fourth the
citywide rate of 21 percent; only 2 percent receive public
"There is no typical New York immigrant," Mr. Salvo said.
The report assembles an intricate mosaic of facts to
support that assertion, from the highest rates of
homeownership (Italians, 64 percent) to the most skewed sex
ratio (161 Pakistani men to every 100 Pakistani women). Its
combination of maps and tables pinpoint the whereabouts of
the top 40 immigrant groups, from the 90,336 Dominicans in
Washington Heights, to the five French immigrants settled
in the Great Kills Zip code on Staten Island. 
"The level of complexity and diversity is beyond anything
we've had in our history," Mr. Salvo said. "We've evolved
into a city that's just an unprecedented mix. And for the
most part all these people get along - it's a testament to
the power of the city."
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