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Latinos Boost U.S. Population

Times Staff Writer

Latino population growth accounted for nearly half of the nation’s population increase of 2.8 million from July 2004 to July 2005, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released today.

The numbers reaffirm Latinos as the country’s largest minority group, at 42.7 million, and as the fastest-growing segment of the population, with a 3.3% growth rate. The Census Bureau data show that Latino population growth is driven more by births than by immigration.

The new figures put the total U.S. population at 296.4 million and paint a picture of an increasingly diverse country, with one in three residents belonging to a minority group.

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The size of the Latino population has been an issue in the illegal immigration debate, with conservatives questioning Latinos’ effect on national culture and political strategists looking for ways to woo the growing constituency.

As the Senate plans to resume debate next week on an overhaul of immigration laws, some analysts see the census figures as evidence of the need for greater immigration controls, while others say the numbers reaffirm the central role Latinos and other minorities will occupy in decades to come.

“Latinos and Asians and Africans are the wave of the future,” said William F. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank. “Whites are the past and aging quickly.”

The census figures put the non-Hispanic white population at 198.4 million, with an increase of 500,000 that accounted for about 19% of total population growth. Immigration accounted for 40% of the increase in the non-Hispanic white population.

Blacks remained the nation’s second-largest minority group, with a population of 39.7 million, up 1.3%, or 496,000. Just 18% of the increase was driven by immigration.

Asians were the third-largest minority group, with a population of 14.4 million, an increase of 3%, or more than 420,000. Immigration was responsible for 57% of the growth.

Among Latinos, immigration accounted for 38% of the 1.3-million population growth, or about 500,000 people. The census data did not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants.

By contrast, estimates by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center say that illegal immigration has averaged more than 500,000 people per year since 2000. The center estimates that 56% of the illegal population comes from Mexico.

Advocates of tighter restrictions on immigration argue that even though the majority of Latino population growth was driven by a natural increase -- births minus deaths -- it is closely tied to immigration, both legal and illegal.

“When you look at children born to all immigrants, it accounts for 75% of population growth,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies. “What that really points to is the fact that immigration policy is a kind of social engineering. It represents a decision by Congress to change the American population.”

Frey drew a different conclusion. “What’s really important is that the growth is largely from fertility rather than immigration,” he said.

“The Latino population is already a substantial part of the U.S. citizen population and will continue to be, irrespective of immigration policy,” he said.


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