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Overview: Wave of Immigration

Historical Background

The roots of today's new settlement patterns are complex. The construction booms and the proliferation of hotels and restaurants that accompanied the 1990s economic boom increased the demand for low-wage labor. US employers encouraged the migration of foreign workers, and immigrants responded. During 1996-2000, the US labor force expanded by 6.7 million people. Foreign-born workers comprised nearly half of the labor force increase. Male foreign-born workers accounted for almost two-thirds, and female foreign-born workers accounted for more than a third of the increase.2

Also, during the 1980s, several corporate giants emerged in the processing of beef, pork, chicken, and fish. These industries began to relocate from the North Central states to the South and South Central and some Eastern seaboard states to be closer to the feedlots and to employ non-union, low-wage laborers.3 Located in small, rural communities with little local labor, processing companies recruited immigrant workers from California and Texas, as well as directly from Mexico and Central America. Communities such as Rogers, Arkansas or Winchester, Virginia now have sizeable immigrant populations and the in-flow of immigrants is directly related to the food-processing industry. Today, active recruitment is often not needed because immigrant networks draw newcomers, often encouraged by hiring bonuses for friends and relatives.

Outside of construction, food processing, and manufacturing, new settlement areas are found in agricultural regions, particularly in areas specializing in crops that are labor intensive to grow and/or harvest. Again, the forces that have driven this process are complex. Growers of labor-intensive crops have cast a broader net to find workers, and there has also been a heretofore unprecedented "settling out" of new immigrants into new destinations. The "Latinization" of agriculture has occurred in the apple groves of Washington State; the mushroom sheds of New England; the grape and row crops of southern California and the orange groves of southern Florida.4 Immigration is now more than ever a national phenomenon.

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Micah Bump is a Research Associate at
Georgetown's Institute for the Study of International Migration. His
work focuses on new settlement areas, immigrant integration, human
trafficking, and remittances.

1 Schmidley, Dianne, 2003. "The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: March 2002." Current Population Reports, P20-539, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C.
2 Mosisa, Abraham T. 2002 "The role of foreign-born workers in the U.S. economy," Monthly Labor Review.
3 Broadway, Michael and Ward, Terry. Recent Changes in the Structure and Location of the U.S. Meatpacking Industry.
4 Taylor, Edward J., Martin, Phil L., and Fix, Michael. Poverty amid Prosperity: Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural California.