Immigrants take spotlight as U.S. registers population of 300 million
San Francisco Chronicle
Oct. 17, 2006

Ilene Lelchuk

The 300 millionth American is expected to arrive today, but in a break with tradition, that landmark resident won't necessarily be a newborn.

She or he may be an adult immigrant.

All the Census Bureau knows for sure is that a baby is born somewhere in the country every 7 seconds, a new immigrant arrives every 31 seconds on average and someone dies every 13 seconds for a net average gain of one resident every 11 seconds. Based on those averages, the Census Bureau projects that the U.S. will hit 300 million at 4:46 a.m. Arizona time today. The bureau's population clock, ticking away in cyberspace at, put the U.S.
population at 299,982,501 on Saturday.

A lot has changed since 1967, the year that America hit the 200 million mark.

At that point, foreign-born residents made up just 5 percent of the population. By 2004, with the advent of legal reforms in 1965 that revived immigration, that figure had jumped to 12 percent.

Put another way, immigrants and their children and grandchildren have accounted for more than half of the population increase in the United States since 1967, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

"We are returning to our melting-pot roots," said William Frey, a demographer for the Brookings Institution.

Immigrants accounted for 15 percent of Americans in 1915, when the nation's population hit the 100 million mark. The largest group was Germans, and rising anti-immigration sentiment led Congress to adopt immigration controls in the 1920s and 1930s.

These days, there is a new wave of anti-immigration sentiment.

But today's fights over immigrants, especially those here illegally, don't compare with the intense fear and hatred at the dawn of the 20th century, said Mike Hout, a sociology professor at the University of California-Berkeley.

"Look at Columbus Day in 1900, when the first really big parade was organized in New York," Hout said.

"Two days prior, the state Assembly passed a bill prohibiting hiring alien Italians for state contracts.

"For the march, 30,000 Italians and Italian-Americans congregated ... and two blocks later, they were greeted with a shower of bricks from Irish workers on a local construction site protesting Italians taking their jobs.
Cops broke up the march with billy clubs."

A century later, New York's 2000 Columbus Day parade was led by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, grandson of Italian immigrants.

Across the country, as well as in California, the largest single immigrant group is from Mexico. They make up about 30 percent of foreign-born people living in the United States.

Immigration is an issue, first because it is driving about half the country's population growth, but this week's milestone also rings alarms for people concerned about climate change, rising energy consumption, farmland disappearing to development and the sheer amount of trash 300 million people will generate.

The news in 1967 that the country's population had hit 200 million spurred Stanford biology Professor Paul Ehrlich, author of the Population Bomb in 1968, to found the group Zero Population Growth.

It is now called Population Connection and advocates curbing illegal immigration, making birth control readily available and using foreign aid to improve life in other countries.

Ehrlich, whose book foretold mass famine and economic catastrophe for the last fourth of the 20th century, says the nation's optimal population is about 100 million.