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New MPI Report Profiles the Nation’s Most Diverse Metro Area, with Houston Immigrant Population Growth Nearly Twice National Average for 2000-2013
Press Release
Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New MPI Report Profiles the Nation’s Most Diverse Metro Area, with Houston Immigrant Population Growth Nearly Twice National Average for 2000-2013

WASHINGTON — Immigration has contributed significantly to the growth and diversity of the Houston metropolitan area, which is the nation’s most diverse and rapidly expanding major U.S. metro area, according to a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report. The Latino and Asian shares of the area’s population have doubled over the past 20 years, and today no one racial or ethnic group forms a majority.

In 2013 the Houston metropolitan area was home to 6.3 million people, of whom 1.4 million were foreign born—a 59 percent increase from 2000. That rate of immigrant population growth is nearly twice the national rate of 33 percent over the period. The Houston metro area, which has the nation’s fifth largest immigrant population, is home to the third-largest concentrations of immigrants from Mexico (599,000), Vietnam (74,000) and Honduras (45,000). Altogether, the region’s population is 23 percent foreign born, compared to 13 percent of the U.S. population over the period surveyed.

The report, A Profile of Immigrants in Houston, the Nation’s Most Diverse Metropolitan Area, examines the origins, settlement patterns, naturalization rates, incomes, educational attainment, English proficiency, legal status and eligibility for relief from deportation under the Obama administration’s deferred action programs for immigrants in the 11-county Houston metro area. The report derives from MPI analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from 2008-2012, supplemented with 2013 data.

The report was commissioned by the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, comprised of 33 non-profits, two law schools, the City of Houston and four area foundations. Established in February 2013, the collaborative is developing a coordinated network of services to assist low-income immigrants in accessing information and legal representation in areas ranging from naturalization to assistance applying for deferred action.

The Houston area has a lower-than-average citizenship rate, with 34 percent of eligible immigrants having taken U.S. citizenship compared to 44 percent nationally; those from Mexico and Central America are least likely to have done so. The area has a relatively high share of immigrants ineligible for citizenship, either because they are unauthorized immigrants (400,000 of the region’s 1.4 million immigrants) or have temporary protected status. Still, there are 350,000 legal permanent residents (also known as green card holders), most from Mexico and Central America, who are eligible to apply for citizenship but have not.

“Our report finds that relatively low incomes of immigrants in the Houston area, particularly for Mexicans and Central Americans, as well as low levels of formal education and limited English proficiency may present barriers to acquiring citizenship and other immigration benefits,” said report co-author Randy Capps, who is MPI’s director of research for U.S. programs.

The report also finds that other groups of immigrants in the Houston area, including those from India and the Philippines, have relatively high education levels, incomes and citizenship rates, and have greater economic contributions on average than U.S.-born Houstonians.

“This report offers a detailed snapshot of how immigrants in the greater Houston area have become part of the fabric of the community, in the workforce, the classroom and broader society,” said MPI President Michael Fix, who co-authored the report. “At the same time it also makes clear that the region’s legal services community faces high demand for services — demand that will grow significantly if President Obama’s executive actions are fully implemented.”

Among other key findings:

  • About half of the metro area’s 400,000 unauthorized immigrants are eligible for the Obama administration’s deferred action programs providing relief from deportation for certain unauthorized immigrants who have been in the United States for five years or more. An estimated 60,000 who came to the United States as children and have met certain educational criteria are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Another 140,000, who are parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, are potentially eligible for the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. (The DAPA program and recent expansions to DACA are currently on hold as the result of a temporary restraining order issued by a federal judge in Texas in a lawsuit challenging deferred action by Texas and 25 other states.)
  • While the area has one of the strongest labor markets in the United States, its economy is relatively low-wage and has relatively high poverty rates for immigrants and the U.S. born alike compared to other major urban areas. Low incomes for immigrants, particularly Latinos, may represent barriers to their integration and access to health care, legal assistance and other needed services. The area’s foreign-born median annual household income for the 2008-2013 period surveyed was $45,000, versus $61,000 for U.S-born households. By contrast, the median incomes of Filipino and Indian immigrants in the Houston area exceeded $90,000, and they also reported the highest levels of formal education and English proficiency.

The report can be downloaded at: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/profile-immigrants-houston-nations-most-diverse-metropolitan-area.

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more, visit www.migrationpolicy.org