Wall Street Journal (New York)
By Sophia Hollander
December 18, 2013
New York City's immigrant population hit a new high of slightly more than three million in 2011, propelled by sharp spikes in Mexican and Chinese-born residents in the past decade, according to an analysis of the most recent census data by the Department of City Planning.
The comprehensive analysis, undertaken by city planners over the past year, revealed a shifting city population dominated by newcomers: More than one third of the city's immigrants arrived since 2000. Wednesday's release of the data was coupled with a new interactive map on the city planning website that allows users to analyze neighborhood data and trace settlement patterns.
"Immigrants certainly build neighborhoods," said Joseph Salvo, director of the population division at the Department of City Planning. "We want to help people who help the city and that's where the value is here because this does not exist."
Like many other New Yorkers, the newcomers have scoured corners of the city searching for bargains, treading into unfamiliar neighborhoods as they searched for a foothold. Although Brooklyn and Queens remained the undisputed immigrant hubs, the city's foreign-born population grew fastest in the Bronx (up 22.1%) and Staten Island (up 35.5%) since the last analysis in 2000.
The international immigrants were joined by more people moving into New York from across the U.S., officials said. Increasingly, both groups of new arrivals found themselves attracted to the same frontier neighborhoods—made more appealing by reduced crime and new development over the past decade. The city's fastest-growing immigrant neighborhood since 2000? Bushwick.
Still, the outlines of the immigrant story—journeys that have shaped the city's fate for generations—still hold, officials said.
"It's an evolutionary change as opposed to revolutionary," said Arun Peter Lobo, deputy director of city planning's population division. "Similar stories, new players."
Only 16% of the city's foreign population was born in Europe, down from 64% in 1970. Overall, around 6 in 10 new Yorkers are immigrants or children of immigrants.
Although the city's largest immigrant group still hails from the Dominican Republic, that population increased only 3% since 2000. By contrast, the city's Mexican-born population grew by 52% and its Chinese-born population increased by 33.9%.
For the Chinese, many may have been living here already. In 2005, the U.S. eliminated its annual cap on green cards granted to people seeking asylum. Until then, thousands who escaped to the U.S. were living here in legal limbo.
Around 42% of the nearly 170,000 Chinese immigrants to New York between 2002 and 2011 were asylees. Many cited China's one child policy, said Peter Kwong, a professor of Asian-American studies and urban planning at Hunter College. Overall, 72,000 Chinese immigrants who received asylum became legal permanent residents of New York City between 2000 and 2011—compared with 3,933 during the 1990s.
The new Chinese immigrants hail from a wider set of regions and include a mix of working class and professionals, Mr. Kwong said. That variety has impacted the city's broader culture.
"Chinese cuisine has diversified," Mr. Kwong said.
The sheer numbers have also pushed Chinese immigrants beyond the borders of the city's traditional Chinatowns, into new neighborhoods like Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
"It just seems to be that the Chinese are really particularly accelerating," Mr. Kwong said.
New York also experienced a striking increase in the number of immigrants becoming citizens.
The naturalization rate rose from 44.5% to 52.1%, the result a multiyear strategy, officials said. Citizenship is required for certain jobs, including becoming policemen or firefighters, and tends to lead to greater rates of homeownership and financial success, they said.
"It is that moment when someone fully adopts and embraces the reality of being an American and participating fully," said Fatima Shama, the city's commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs.
Ms. Shama's office targeted city workers and public school parents, offering them free legal advice and providing information on the naturalization process. The city also joined with a local credit union to provide immigrants with a microloan to cover the $680 fee and help them open savings accounts.
"We really tried to build it out in a holistic sense," Ms. Shama said
In the past decade, more than two-thirds of people moving to New York came from other parts of the U.S.—and settled alongside immigrants from around the world, forming new mixed communities. In the place of immigrant enclaves has risen a series of integrated neighborhoods where immigrant families live side-by-side with young, childless hipsters.
"All you've got to do is go into Steinway Street in Astoria—go into anyone of the lunch places just watch; you'll see an Ecuadorean family restaurant serving young people in large numbers and immigrants." Mr. Salvo said. "It's side by side in a lot of places."
Overall, the data affirmed the city's fundamental character, he said.
"One of the reasons we do well is such a regular injection of vitality from immigrants," Mr. Salvo said. "Opportunities are holding people where they didn't in the past."
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