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April 2022, Volume 28, Number 2

Foreign-born, Immigration

There were a record 46.6 million foreign-born US residents at the end of 2022, making 14.2 percent of US residents immigrants, plus 17 million children under 18 who were born to immigrants in the US. Some 14.8 percent of US residents were foreign born in 1890 and 14.7 percent were immigrants in 1910.

The stock of immigrants declined in 2020 and rose in 2021. Mexicans, other Latin Americans, and Asians are each about a quarter of the foreign-born. The US population rose by 244,000 in 2021 due to net immigration, higher than the 148,000 increase due to natural increase (births minus deaths).

A quarter of foreign-born residents are unauthorized. Almost three million unauthorized foreigners were legalized in 1987-88. During legalization, more unauthorized foreigners arrived, so the US had three million unauthorized foreigners in 1990. The number of unauthorized foreigners quadrupled to 12 million in 2007 before stabilizing at 11 million over the past decade.

Legislation. After three attempts to include some form of legalization for unauthorized foreigners in the Senate version of the Build Back Better Act (HR 5376), Democrats pivoted to voting rights legislation and once again failed to find sufficient support for new legislation. Some wanted to expand voting rights by mandating automatic voter registration and early voting, while others joined Republicans and focused on revising the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to clarify procedures after elections occur.

Several Senate Democrats refused to support ending the filibuster, dimming prospects for action on immigration reform, voting rights, and the expansion of federal government social welfare benefits. Prospects for many other 2020 Democratic priorities faded, including doubling the minimum wage, making it easier to unionize workplaces, and cancelling student debt.

President Biden began his second year in office with his legislative agenda stalled in Congress, the highest inflation in four decades, and pandemic fatigue. Two-thirds of US adults are fully vaccinated, and the US Supreme Court in January 2022 rejected an OSHA regulation that would require private employers of 100 or more workers to mandate vaccinations.

Some said that Biden’s first year was perceived as unsuccessful because he focused on the priorities of college-educated Democratic activists rather than the priorities of most Americans. They say that Americans want action on their immediate concerns such as covid and inflation rather than an expanded social safety net and action on climate change that benefits future generations.

Conservative Democrats urged a repeal of the 2017 Trump tax cuts, and urged that the resulting government revenue be used to reduce government debt and to fund one Democratic priority such as lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

Crime. The US has five percent of the world’s people and 20 percent of the world’s prison inmates. The US has the world’s highest incarceration rate: 630 of each 100,000 residents, some 2.2 million people, were incarcerated in 2020, almost five times the global average rate of 140 inmates per 100,000 residents.

The US incarceration rate increased in the 1980s and 1990s, rising from about 110 per 100,000 between 1925 and 1975. There are believed to be about 11 million prison inmates worldwide, over 90 percent men.

Almost half of federal and state prison inmates were sentenced for drug-related crimes. The average cost of a prisoner ranges from a low of $20,000 per year in the southern states to over $50,000 a year in northeastern states. There are many explanations for the high US incarceration rate, including the war on drugs, the availability of guns, poverty, and the fact that many state judges and prosecutors are elected and fear being tagged as soft-on-crime.

US murder rates spiked in 2021. Reasons for the drop from almost 10 homicides per 100,000 US residents in 1990 to less than five between 2010 and 2014 range from more police to easier access to abortion. Homicide rates began to rise recently, and the spike to seven per 100,000 in 2021 has been attributed to covid that curbed access to in-person violence prevention services, less aggressive policing, and more guns carried more often in public. Fund-the-police has replaced defund the police; some argue that intelligent policing focused on hot spots where crimes occur and on repeat offenders would do most to reduce crime.

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