US im­mi­gra­tion has an evolv­ing face

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - NATION+WORLD - By Josh Boak AP Eco­nomics Writer

When Manasi Gopala im­mi­grated to Amer­ica, she fi­nally got the chance to row crew.

As a child in In­dia, she had dreamed of the sport from watch­ing Olympic tele­casts. Now, twice a week, she pulls a pair of oars as her scull glides along tree-lined Lake Wheeler, far from her birth­place of Ban­ga­lore.

Gopala is among throngs of ed­u­cated In­di­ans who have moved in re­cent years to North Carolina’s tech­laden Re­search Tri­an­gle and other ar­eas across Amer­ica. A 39-year-old soft­ware de­vel­oper, she pep­pers her emails with an adopted “y’all.” She be­came a U.S. cit­i­zen three years ago.

“Amer­ica had given me the op­por­tu­nity to pur­sue my own life,” she said.

In­creas­ingly, the face of U.S. im­mi­gra­tion re­sem­bles Gopala.

For all of Don­ald Trump’s talk of build­ing a bor­der wall and de­port­ing 11 mil­lion unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants who are mainly His­panic — and for all of the en­dur­ing con­tention over il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion — im­mi­grants to the U.S. are now more likely to come from Asia than from Mex­ico or Latin Amer­ica. And com­pared with Amer­i­cans over­all, im­mi­grants to­day are dis­pro­por­tion­ately well-ed­u­cated and en­tre­pre­neur­ial. They are trans­form­ing the na­tion in ways largely ig­nored by the po­lit­i­cal joust­ing over how im­mi­gra­tion is af­fect­ing Amer­ica’s cul­ture, econ­omy and na­tional se­cu­rity.

As of three years ago, Cen­sus fig­ures show , In­dia and China eclipsed Mex­ico as the top sources of U.S. im­mi­grants, whether au­tho­rized or not. In 2013, 147,000 Chi­nese im­mi­grants and 129,000 In­di­ans came to the U.S., com­pared with 125,000 Mex­i­cans. Most of the Asian im­mi­grants ar­rived in the United States legally — through work, stu­dent or fam­ily visas.

Im­mi­grants are also more likely now to be U.S. cit­i­zens. Nearly half of im­mi­grants over the age of 25 — 18 mil­lion peo­ple — are nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens, com­pared with just 30 per­cent back in 2000, ac­cord­ing to Cen­sus fig­ures.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, more Mex­i­cans with­out doc­u­men­ta­tion are re­turn­ing home. The num­ber of Mex­i­cans in the United States il­le­gally tum­bled nearly 8 per­cent in the past six years to 5.85 mil­lion, the Pew Re­search Cen­ter found. Bor­der Pa­trol ap­pre­hen­sions, one gauge of il­le­gal cross­ings, last year reached their low­est point since 1971.

With the share of U.S. res­i­dents born abroad at its high­est level in a cen­tury, im­mi­grants in­creas­ingly defy the stereo­types that tend to shape con­ver­sa­tions on the is­sue. Con­sider:

• About 40 per­cent of In­dian im­mi­grants hold a grad­u­ate de­gree . Fewer than 12 per­cent of na­tive­born Amer­i­cans do. And earn­ings for a me­dian In­dian im­mi­grant house­hold ex­ceed $100,000 — more than twice the U.S. me­dian.

• A ma­jor­ity of Chi­nese im­mi­grants have come to the United States to seek ed­u­ca­tion. China has be­come the dom­i­nant source of for­eign­ers at­tend­ing U.S. uni­ver­si­ties, with 304,000 stu­dent visas in the past aca­demic year. In­dia is sec­ond, with 133,000 visas. In ad­di­tion, a quar­ter of im­mi­grants from China hold grad­u­ate de­grees.

• Since 2011, a ma­jor­ity of In­dian and Chi­nese im­mi­grants have been be­tween ages 15 and 29. Their youth means they’re likely to have chil­dren born as U.S. cit­i­zens, who will then be­come prime contributors to Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion growth in the years ahead, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by Cen­sus of­fi­cials.

The in­flux of Asians has not only re­shaped the face of Amer­ica’s im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion. It has also sharp­ened the di­vide within the im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion — be­tween well-ed­u­cated Asians and ar­rivals from Mex­ico and Latin Amer­ica who have lit­tle money or ed­u­ca­tion. The re­sult is that Amer­ica’s 40 mil­lion-plus im­mi­grants more and more re­flect the ex­tremes of Amer­ica’s eco­nomic spec­trum, from su­per-rich tech ti­tans to poor agri­cul­ture work­ers.

Yet econ­o­mists say im­mi­grants from both ends of the di­vide are ben­e­fit­ing the econ­omy. At a time when the growth of the U.S. work­force has slowed, im­mi­grants and their col­lec­tive spend­ing have be­come a key source of eco­nomic fuel.

These dis­parate groups of im­mi­grants have helped re­shape towns and cities, pop­u­lated new sub­ur­ban hous­ing de­vel­op­ments and re­vived main streets in some de­cay­ing ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. The changes flash into view on a visit to the po­lit­i­cal swing state of North Carolina. The pro­por­tion of im­mi­grants in the state’s pop­u­la­tion has quadru­pled from 1990 to nearly 8 per­cent. Sim­i­lar trends have emerged in Ge­or­gia, Colorado, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton.

None of these states ap­proaches the more than 20 per­cent share in Cal­i­for­nia and New York. Yet the trans­for­ma­tions are ev­i­dent in a drive across the dense high­ways that con­nect North Carolina’s Re­search Tri­an­gle. The sub­urbs sand­wiched among Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh have ex­ploded with plazas crowded with up­scale lunch spots and de­signer gyms.

In­dian im­mi­grants have put their dis­tinc­tive stamp on this area. Their preva­lence here is sim­i­lar to the many ed­u­cated Chi­nese im­mi­grants who have set­tled around Los An­ge­les, San Fran­cisco and New York.

On evenings in the Re­search Tri­an­gle, many of the cars on Avi­a­tion Park­way pull off to stop at the 20-acre Hindu So­ci­ety of North Carolina in Mor­risville, which hosts yoga classes and re­li­gious services.

In 2000, when the so­ci­ety’s tem­ple was built, Mor­risville was home to just 230 In­di­ans. Now, there are 4,300. Those with roots in the com­mu­nity dat­ing to the 1960s re­call a pe­riod when a gro­cery run for au­then­tic In­dian in­gre­di­ents re­quired a five-hour drive to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Those treks are no longer nec­es­sary.

Their rising num­bers have es­tab­lished a broad com­mu­nity of In­di­ans that has made it eas­ier for new ar­rivals to in­te­grate than it was for prior gen­er­a­tions.

“Now, you come from In­dia, you don’t re­ally have to know any­thing else,” said Pranav Pa­tel, a 57-year-old soft­ware de­vel­oper. “The sys­tem is here to help you ad­just. There are no real hard­ships.”

Asked how they have been re­ceived in the com­mu­nity, about a dozen Asian im­mi­grants said they have gen­er­ally been warmly ac­cepted de­spite the na­tional furor over im­mi­gra­tion. One, on­col­o­gist, Dr. Neeraj Agrawal, said he could re­call a pa­tient hav­ing to over­come an ini­tial re­luc­tance to be treated by a for­eigner. But that was a rare ex­cep­tion.

“There’s a dra­matic change in at­ti­tudes about skilled, ed­u­cated im­mi­grants: ‘You’re wel­come. You’re a good neigh­bor. You’re a good ad­di­tion to so­ci­ety,’” said Agrawal, who was born and ed­u­cated in In­dia.

In August, Gopala went to the Hindu So­ci­ety to cel­e­brate In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence day. Over the en­trance of the tem­ple is the sym­bol for “om,” rep­re­sent­ing knowl­edge — a re­minder of ed­u­ca­tion’s vaunted sta­tus. Mu­sic blared over the crowd amid danc­ing and hon­ors paid to stat­ues of deities. Gopala en­joyed the fes­tiv­i­ties. Yet she saw few white and black guests shar­ing in the mo­ment.

Weeks later, she won­dered: Did part of in­te­grat­ing mean invit­ing oth­ers to share your cul­ture, to wel­come neigh­bors with samosas and other del­i­ca­cies?

One prom­i­nent out­sider did show up: Gov. Pat McCrory, a Repub­li­can in a heated re-elec­tion cam­paign that has been fueled in part by a crack­down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.


Manasi Gopala, a soft­ware de­vel­oper in North Carolina’s Re­search Tri­an­gle, works from home in Cary, N.C., last month.

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