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The number of foreign-born people in America continues to climb. The latest figures from Census 2000 indicate a total of 31.1 million. That's an increase of 11.3 million people who have come to the U.S. since 1990, when there were only 19.8 million foreign-born stateside.

This group may represent only a small share of the overall population, but it's growing more swiftly than average. Between 1990 and 2000, it grew by 57 percent, far outpacing the 9.3 percent increase for the native population and 13 percent rise in the total U.S. population.

Finding the foreign born, who represent an especially alluring market for travel and telecom companies, is fairly easy as they tend to gravitate to certain places. For instance, Census 2000 reveals that the West is home to the largest share of the foreign born. In 2000, 38 percent of them lived in the West, which vaulted ahead of the South, where most lived in 1990. In 2000, nearly 1 in 3 (29 percent) of the foreign-born resided in California.

Still, many of the counties where high concentrations of the foreign born live can be found in historical gateway areas for immigrants. These include the southwestern border states from California to Texas, New York City and the Miami metropolitan areas, where 51 percent of the county's population is foreign-born. High concentrations of such populations can also be found in the Pacific Northwest and the Washington, D.C. metro area.

While the foreign born tend to turn up in coastal urban areas, over the 1990s, they also moved to predominantly white, rural counties. Accounting for 11.1 percent of the nation's population, they represent 20 percent or more of the total population in Seward, Finney and Ford counties in Kansas. It's not surprising to Ann Durkes, principal budget analyst and Kansas state demographer, because Mexicans and Asians are drawn to jobs at meat-packing plants where wages compare favorably with those in their home countries. “Someone coming from rural Mexico will get more buying power for the work they do here,� she says.

The largest foreign-born population (11.8 million) in 2000 resided in Western states, but starting from a smaller base, the South experienced the fastest growth in the number of foreign-born — an 88 percent increase to 8.6 million between 1990 and 2000. North Carolina saw the greatest surge in its foreign-born population, which grew by 274 percent to 430,000 from 115,000. William Tillman, Jr., the state demographer for North Carolina, speculates that a combination of high-tech jobs around Raleigh and a boom in finance in Charlotte lured educated Asians to the Tarheel state. Hispanics tend to show up on construction crews and in the fast-food industry, he adds.

For more information, refer to the Census 2000 Brief, “The Foreign-Born Population: 2000,� at www.census.gov.

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