One-Quarter of Americans are First-or Second-Generation Immigrants

Saturday, September 26, 2015
(photo: Andy Holzman, Los Angeles Daily News/AP)

Pull any four Americans together and there’s a good chance one of them is an immigrant or the child of one.


A new study published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says first- and second-generation immigrants now comprise 25% of the U.S. population.


There are 41 million immigrants in the country today, or about 13% of the population, with another 37 million second-generation immigrants (the sons or daughters of immigrants), who make up 12% of the population. Together, these groups account for one out of four people in the U.S., according to the study’s authors, Mary C. Waters and Marisa Gerstein Pineau.


“Whether they are successfully integrating is therefore a pressing and important question,” Waters and Pineau wrote.


In an interview with ThinkProgress, Waters addressed that issue: “They’re integrating as well as, or even faster, than immigrants who came from Europe in the last century,” Waters said.


“In that way, I think it should be reassuring to Americans who are often worried that somehow the immigrants are not learning English, are not progressing well, or becoming full Americans. What we find overall — there’s a lot of details and caveats — but overall, the immigrants are rapidly assimilating into American society.”


One thing that keeps immigrants from learning English faster is the lack of classes for them. “The troubling issue is that federal and state support for adult English-language classes has declined in the last decade,” Waters said. “So people who want to learn English don’t necessarily have access to that.”


The authors also found that immigrants are healthier than the native-born population as a whole, belying the notion put forth by some that they bring disease with them. They’re also less likely to commit crimes than those already here; immigrants are incarcerated at only a quarter of the rate of the native-born.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Summary (The Integration of Immigrants into American Society)

The Integration of Immigrants into American Society (National Academies Press)

New Study Demolishes 3 Pernicious Myths About First-Generation Immigrants In America (by Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, Think Progress)

New Immigrants from China and India Now Outnumber Immigrants from Mexico (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

10 Occupations with the Highest Percentage of Unauthorized Immigrants (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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