New census survey offers glimpse into immigration, language spoken at home |

New census survey offers glimpse into immigration, language spoken at home

WASHINGTON (AP) – Nearly one-fifth of America’s school-age children speak a language other than English at home, says a Census Bureau report that also shows more than 13.3 million immigrants landed in the United States between 1990 and 2000.

The numbers reflect youngsters, age 5 to 17, who receive most of their formal education in English, but speak a second language with their families: about 9.8 million, or 18 percent of that group, compared with 14 percent in the 1990 census.

Close to seven in 10 of the children spoke Spanish at home, the 2000 survey found, and two-thirds of that group rated themselves as speaking English very well. Fluency declines as people get older, as 50 percent of those age 18 to 64 who spoke Spanish at home described themselves as speaking English very well.

In the 2000 survey, there were more than 30.5 million foreign-born Americans, about 11 percent of the country’s household population of 273.4 million. More came from Mexico than anywhere else. The survey did not offer estimates on the number of undocumented immigrants in America.

Estimates from the wide-ranging nationwide survey being released Monday come as lawmakers and advocacy groups debate how to shape policy on immigration and bilingual education.

Results from the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey are in line with earlier estimates of the foreign-born population – one of the fastest-growing groups in the country.

Survey information was gathered separately from the 2000 census and provides estimates of demographic trends expected to be reflected in additional census data due out next year.

The survey also covers topics such as income and poverty, educational attainment, commuting times and fertility. It is not considered a substitute for the official 2000 census figures.

Much of the recent attention on the census from Congress and the White House has focused on figures that showed the Hispanic population grew 58 percent over the 1990s to 35 million. Hispanics now rival non-Hispanic blacks as the nation’s largest minority group.

The new numbers offer more evidence of the diverse makeup of American youngsters and show the need to expand bilingual education programs, said Lisa Navarette of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy group.

She said the survey also helps to dispel the notion that children who speak Spanish at home have difficulty conversing in English.

A critic of bilingual education wondered why more school-age children who speak Spanish did not rate themselves as speaking English very well.

”The figures should be closer to 100 percent,” said Ron Unz, chairman of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based English for the Children, who successfully pushed a California ballot question in 1998 dismantling the state’s bilingual education program.

”If the schools are failing to teach English, that’s a crime.”

Nearly 29 percent of the foreign born population, or 8.8 million, came from Mexico, the survey estimated.

About 78 percent of the foreign born from Mexico were not citizens, compared with half of those from Asia and 45 percent of the foreign born from Europe.

While the survey did not provide estimates of undocumented immigrants, an Immigration and Naturalization Service places the number of illegal aliens in the country at roughly 7 million, with 5 million entering during the 1990s.

Urban Institute demographer Jeffrey Passel said the illegal immigrant population could be as high as 8.5 million, with at least half coming from Mexico.

The Bush administration is considering whether to give eventual permanent legal status to some undocumented Mexicans in the United States.

”The difference between now and the turn of the 20th century is that there is no foreseeable slowdown in immigration,” Rep. Lamar Smith said last week at a hearing of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee. Smith, R-Texas, an author of a 1996 law that cracked down on illegal immigrants.

The supplementary survey was distributed to 700,000 households in 1,203 counties nationwide. It was administered at the same time as the 2000 census, but the census itself provides a broader picture of social trends because it was based upon forms mailed to 120 million households.

Unlike the census, the survey did not count people in group quarters, such as prisons, college dormitories and nursing homes. Therefore, the estimates could be a little lower than the actual number, the bureau said.

Additionally, direct comparisons to the 1990 census and more recent bureau reports were impossible for many topics in the new survey because of the different sample sizes, different margins of error for each state, and different data collection methods.

The report is part of a Census Bureau test to see if such a survey done every year can replace the census long-form questionnaire sent out every 10 years.

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