GRAND ISLAND, Neb.- To capture the impact of the last great wave of immigration to the United States, consider the city of Grand Island, Neb .: More than 60% of public school students are not white and their families collectively speak 55 languages. When dropping off at Starr Elementary School a recent morning, parents said goodbye to their children in Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese.
“You wouldn’t expect to see so many languages spoken in a school district of 10,000 people,” said Tawana Grover, the school principal who arrived from Dallas four years ago. “When you hear Nebraska, you don’t think of diversity. We have the world right here in rural America. “
The students are the children of foreign-born workers who flocked to this city of 51,000 in the 1990s and 2000s to work hard in the region’s meat-packing plants, where speaking English was less necessary than willingness. to do the grueling work.
They have come to Nebraska from all corners of the globe: Mexicans, Guatemalans and Hondurans who have crossed the Rio Grande on inner tubes in search of a better life; refugees who fled famine in South Sudan and the war in Iraq to find safe refuge; Salvadorians and Cambodians who spent years working in California and heard that jobs in Nebraska were plentiful and the cost of living was low.
The story of how millions of immigrants since the 1970s have taken root in the country is now well known. What is less understood about President Trump’s four-year push to close borders and put “America first” is that his quest may ultimately prove fruitless. Even with one of the steepest declines in immigration since the 1920s, the country is on an irreversible path to become ever more diverse and more dependent on immigrants and their children.
From the moment he took office, the president has issued a torrent of ordinances that have reduced refugee admissions; restricts those eligible for asylum; made it more difficult to gain access to permanent residence or citizenship; tightened controls on visa applicants for highly skilled workers and sought to limit the length of stay of international students. Its policies have reduced the number of migrants arrested and then released in the country from nearly 500,000 in fiscal 2019 to 15,000 in fiscal 2020.
The measures have worked: “We will end the decade with lower immigration than in any decade since the 1970s,” said William Frey, senior researcher at the Brookings Institution, who analyzed the newly available census data. .
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has pledged to reverse many measures. He pledged to reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, an Obama-era program that allowed young adults primarily brought illegally to the United States as children to stay, and to resume accepting more refugees and asylum seekers.
He also said he would introduce a bill to provide a pathway to citizenship for people living illegally in the country.
Yet immigration remains a flashpoint for Americans, millions of whom have backed Mr. Trump’s crackdown, and pushing any substantial immigration reform through Congress will prove difficult as long as Republicans retain control. of the Senate.
And in any case, Mr. Trump’s immigration legacy cannot be unraveled overnight. While some of the decrees and memoranda that helped close the border can be rescinded quickly, hundreds of technical but important changes to the immigration system will take much longer to undo.
But as Grand Island shows, nothing Mr. Trump did could stop the inexorable changes triggered by the biggest wave of immigration since the 1890s, when southern and eastern Europeans arrived. in large numbers by Ellis Island.
Even if immigration stopped, their offspring would continue to reshape the country.
In 1992, only 50 Hispanics were enrolled in schools on Grand Island. In 2001, there were 1,600 students out of an estimated 7,600. Now Latinos make up more than half of the 10,000 students in the district, and there is no forecast that does not show that this proportion continues to accelerate. .
A wave of arrivals to the United States began in the 1970s, strengthened in the 1980s, and peaked in the early 2000s. Millions of Latin Americans came. There has also been a dramatic growth in the number of Asians, who outnumbered Hispanics born overseas between 2010 and 2019. New immigrants are more likely than native Americans to have a college degree. and are integrated at all levels of the economy. This is even more true for their children.
In San Francisco, Vida Ahyong, 37, born in the United States, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, heads the Covid-19 diagnostic lab at Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, overseeing a staff that includes young Latino, African and Asian researchers who are also children of immigrants. One of them is Gloria Castañeda, 24, Yale graduate, born in California to a janitor and truck driver, both Mexican immigrants.
The family of Aslan Kat, 17, have been granted asylum in the United States after escaping the civil war in Syria five years ago. He is the captain of the Wayne Hills High School college football team in Wayne, New Jersey, and hopes to play in college, where he plans to study engineering. Among his teammates there are immigrants from Armenia, Cuba and Egypt.
In 1920, people born abroad made up 13.2% of the population. A backlash against the Japanese, Southern Europeans, and Jews, among others, resulted in the adoption of nationally-sourced quotas in 1924, which ended a large influx that had started in the late 1800s. .
It was not until the 1970s that immigration increased again, after the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act eliminated quotas and created a system based on family relationships and work categories.
The foreign-born population increased by 5.6 million in the 1980s, 8.8 million in the 1990s and 11.3 million in the 2000s.
By the time Mr. Trump took office, this contemporary wave of immigration had brought the foreign-born population to 44.5 million, or 13.7% of the population, the largest share since 1910. Among them there were around 11 million undocumented immigrants.
During his first week in office, the president introduced a travel ban to prevent the entry of people from many Muslim countries and suspended the resettlement of refugees, citing terrorist threats.
As Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty arrived at the border by bus, his administration put in place policies to deter them, including separating migrant children from their parents.
He was able to do so by bypassing a Congress that had long been deadlocked on immigration reform, issuing a series of executive orders and proclamations that quickly shut the door on immigration despite a wave of legal challenges.
“Trump has demonstrably demonstrated that you don’t need a big deal to fight immigration and border security,” said James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Average net migration declined 45% between 2017 and 2019 from an average of 953,000 over the previous seven years, as fewer immigrants arrived and more left, according to an analysis of census data from the Center for Immigration Studies.
There will be an even more precipitous drop recorded by the end of 2020 as a result of visa restrictions imposed by the president amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“This year is truly unprecedented in how dramatic and rapid this decline in immigration has been,” said David Bier, immigration analyst at the Cato Libertarian Institute. “Outside of the wars and the Great Depression, we have never seen a level of immigration like the one we are seeing now.”
Mr Trump has focused on denigrating refugees and immigrants like drains in public coffers and defending a wall on the southwest border.
Yet all the attention at the border has ignored the much greater growth in immigration occurring elsewhere in the country.
The number of immigrants of Asian origin increased by 2.8 million in the nine years ending 2019, more than in any other region. The biggest gains were among the Indians and the Chinese; the number of Mexicans fell by 779,000.
Many recent immigrants have settled in areas of the country where there is a low concentration of foreign-born people, including states that voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2020.
Among them are Nephrologist Shikha Jaiswal and her husband Nihit Gupta, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, who have come to the United States from India to complete their residency and who are building their careers in a medically underserved area of Virginia. -Western.
Small towns in America have come to rely on a pipeline of foreign doctors. “The people were very kind and grateful at the same time, which made it a very rewarding experience,” said Dr Jaiswal.
The children of immigrants who are already here will continue to make the United States more diverse: the 2020 census is expected to show that more than half of people under 18 are people of color.
“The mainstream now includes more and more non-white people, especially with an immigrant background,” said Richard Alba, professor of sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
The movement of the baby boom generation out of the workforce amid falling birth rates is accelerating the trend and intensifying the need for new immigrant workers to pay the social security and health bills of Americans who retire.
“It‘s not that native-born children can’t take the baby boomer jobs; it‘s that there aren’t enough of these kids to take them, ”said Dowell Myers, a University of Southern California demographer who studies the subject.
This diversity is already reflected in the upper echelons of the workforce.
For much of the second half of the 20th century, white workers held a virtual monopoly on the highest paying positions. But in 2015, among the highest-paid workers under the age of 50, about a third were non-whites, mostly Latinos or Asians of immigrant background, according to a study by Mr Alba, which predicts that their share will fall short. will only increase.
A study released last month found that nearly 30% of all students enrolled in colleges and universities in 2018 were from immigrant families, up from 20% in 2000.
“When you start to have such diverse cohorts of college graduates, it’s going to change the workforce, which means more people from diverse backgrounds move into positions of authority and high pay,” said Mr. Alba. “There is no turning back.”