Which U.S. State Has the Most Immigrants?

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Immigration to America began around 1492, and hasn’t let up much since then. Almost everyone in the U.S. is from somewhere else if you look far enough back, but most recent immigrants reside in California, New York, Texas, Illinois or Florida.

Here are the top five states, with the total number of foreign-born residents that each had in 2008, according to American Community Survey:

  1. California (9,859,027)
  2. New York (4,236,768)
  3. Texas (3,887,224)
  4. Florida  (3,391,511)
  5. Illinois (1,782,423)

Arizona, which sparked controversy when lawmakers passed new legislation aimed at identifying and prosecuting illegal immigrants, finished at number eight on the list with 932,518 immigrants.

The distribution of immigrants in America results from a combination of geographic proximity, economic opportunities and historic trends, Janne Batalova, an immigration policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told Life’s Little Mysteries. Immigrants looking for jobs usually enter the most accessible area of the U.S., and then establish communities that attract more immigrants from their former homes.

For example, Chinese immigrants headed to California in the 1800s to work in gold mines, while European immigrants headed to New York to work in the nation’s growing industrial sector. Those communities put down roots that still exist today and continue to attract new immigrants from their countries of origin, Batalova said.

California and Texas used to be part of Mexico, and they both have populations of Mexican people who can trace their roots to that time. Florida, close to the Caribbean, has maintains a large Cuban population, Batalova said.

But physical proximity isn't always a requirement. Illinois has long been a hub of Eastern European immigration. In this case, initial settlement by a group led to increased future settlement by members of the same group.

“Immigration is greatly facilitated by networks that connect immigrants with jobs, help them integrate, and move on with their lives in the United States. And of course, they come for jobs,” Batalova said.

The economic attraction explains the traditional migration of immigrants to big cities like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Miami and Dallas, Batalova said. In 2008, nearly 38 million Americans hailed from another country, and more than 8 million of those resided in either Los Angeles or New York City, according to the 2008 American Community Survey.

A more recent trend has been the wider dissemination of immigrants throughout the country. In fact, between 1990 and 2008, 14 states saw their rate of immigration increase by 200 percent or more, according to the 2008 American Community Survey.

As the economy has suffered, immigrants have blazed trails in states such as Georgia, Nevada and Washington where they found less competition for work, Batalova said. Those states have seen an increase in immigration recently, despite their lack of the traditional support structure of established immigrant enclaves.

Stuart Fox currently researches and develops physical and digital exhibit experiences at the Science Liberty Center. His news writing includes the likes of several Purch sites, including Live Science and Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries.