20 U.S. Cities with the Most Immigrants

A judge blocked the harshest aspects of Arizona’s new law, turning planned protests into a victory party. Bryan Curtis talks to undocumented immigrants about why they can’t rest easy.

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1. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL Metro Area

Immigrant Population: 1,994,677

Percent of Population: 36.92%

Often described as the gateway to Latin America, it’s no surprise that Miami comes in at No. 1 on the list of the most foreign-born residents. Famous for its large Cuban population, Miami has such a large Spanish-speaking population (nearly 60 percent) that people say it's hard to conduct business there unless you’re fluent in the language.



To learn more about this list of top immigrant cities and explanation for the numbers, please read Richard Florida’s introduction to this list.

Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo

2. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA Metro Area

Immigrant Population: 649,751

Percent of Population: 36.31%

Silicon Valley is full of high-tech engineers, software developers, and other whizzes from all over the world who come to the U.S. to study and work at leading tech companies. Firms like Google have pushed to increase the number of foreign workers but encountered visa problems with U.S. authorities.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA Metro Area

Immigrant Population: 4,394,068

Percent of Population: 34.28%

Los Angeles has a long history of immigrant communities making their home in the city. But recent reports suggest that the number of foreign-born residents has peaked and may even be declining. What this means for greater L.A. is still to be determined.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

4. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA  Metro Area

Immigrant Population: 1,245,521

Percent of Population: 29.50%

Despite a tolerant attitude today, San Francisco was also one of the first cities in the U.S. to institute a strict immigration policy in the 1800s to halt the influx of Chinese immigrants. To protest the Arizona immigration law, the city banned its workers from making official business trips to the state.

Chris Hondros / Getty Images

5. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 

Immigrant Population: 5,317,616

Percent of Population: 28.10%

There is no more famous city for immigrants in America, and maybe even the world, than New York City. The Statue of Liberty has long been a beacon of the city’s welcoming attitude toward foreigners. Today people moving to the city are as likely to be looking for entry-level, low-paying work as they are to be heading to a Wall Street firm or consulting group. Mayor Bloomberg has partnered with Rupert Murdoch and other business leaders to press for nationwide immigration reform.

Nam Y. Huh / AP Photo

6. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI

Immigrant Population: 1,675,949

Percent of Population: 17.64%

Chicago began growing as an immigrant city in the 1880s, with large numbers of Polish, German, and Eastern Europeans migrating there in large numbers. Since then, the city has become home to people originally from Mexico, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia. In 2007, riots flared in a Southwest Side neighborhood when federal agents busted a local fake ID ring and randomly questioned bystanders—leading some to question whether an Arizona-style law would be next.

7. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

Immigrant Population: 1,090,385

Percent of Population: 17.73%

Given Dallas’ proximity to the Mexican border, the city has long attracted many immigrants. The city's second-largest immigrant group comes from Vietnam. The city also has large numbers of people from El Salvador, India, China, and Russia.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo

8. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA

Immigrant Population: 1,073,591

Percent of Population: 20.23%

Washington D.C. rose as a hub for immigrants after the 1970s, with the foreign-born population of the city reaching 800,000 in 1998. The city is home to people originally from El Salvador, Vietnam, India, the Philippines and Ethiopia. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has focused investigations on “immigrant gangs” in Northern Virginia and D.C., and in July 2010, arrested 87 foreign-born residents who allegedly committed crimes after arriving in the U.S.

Johnny Hanson / AP Photo

9. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX

Immigrant Population: 1,119,50

Percent of Population: 21.39%

Houston traditionally has been home to a large number of Mexican and Latin American immigrants, but the city also has some of the largest Indian and Pakistani populations in the country. The city also has the biggest Nigerian community in the U.S.

Jae C. Hong / AP Photo

10. Las Vegas-Paradise, NV

Immigrant Population: 1,073,591
Immigrant Population: 397,205

Percent of Population: 21.81%

Las Vegas has become one of America’s fastest-growing cities in the 2000s, due in no small part to the large number of immigrants who have moved there. With its large entertainment and tourism industry, the city easily attracts a large number of people seeking work, and it has one of the fastest-growing Asian and Hispanic populations in the country. But the city hasn’t escaped its own share of immigration controversy: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hails from Nevada, and his presence in the national immigration debate has made the city one of the hotbeds of the immigration battles.

11. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA

Immigrant Population: 893,600

Percent of Population: 22.04%

The L.A. suburbs of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ontario are home to one of the fastest-growing Asian-American populations in the country. While the area has mainly been known for its large number of Mexican immigrants, the population of Mexican immigrants only makes up a little more than half of the region's foreign-born population.

David Maung / Landov

12. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA

Immigrant Population: 671,608

Percent of Population: 22.64%

San Diego’s foreign-born population surged 40 percent in the 1990s, far outpacing the rest of its growth. Given the city’s close proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, San Diego has long had a complicated relationship with immigration. In 2010, the New American Museum opened in the city, dedicated to showing the plight of immigrants.

Landov

13. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, CA

Immigrant Population: 358,499

Percent of Total: 17.21%

As the capital of California, Sacramento has long been a center for immigrants. The city started with a large Chinese population influx a century ago, and since then, the city has had nearly 16 percent of its population be foreign-born. But the city is torn about how to handle the current immigration debate. The city council voted in June to boycott Arizona, but a number of the city's residents remain divided over the best course of action.

David Goldman / AP Photo

14. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ

Immigrant Population: 692,038

Percent of Total: 16.63%

The epicenter of the immigration debate, Arizona's largest city and capital, Phoenix, appears at No. 14 on our list. The hotly contested new immigration law has been at the center of a huge debate about the role immigrants play in the state. But the new law does not tell the whole story: Arizona has seen a decline in illegal immigrants between 2008-2010, despite the current controversy.

Steven Senne / AP Photo

15. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy MA

Immigrant Population: 716,264

Percent of Total: 15.94%

Boston long had a history as a haven for Irish immigrants, but the city's immigrant population continued to grow in the 2000s, even while similar cities were experiencing declines. The reasons for Boston's immigration increase are not clear, but many foreign-born residents probably came to attend the city's numerous universities or to work in the high-tech industry. One immigration case currently enthralling the city is that of a Harvard student who was found to be an illegal immigrant in June. He was deported to Mexico, despite having lived 15 of his 19 years in San Antonio.

16. Orlando-Kissimee, FL

Immigrant Population: 321,136

Percent of Total: 15.85%

Given Florida's close proximity to Latin America, the state has always had large immigrant populations. Orlando lags far behind Miami in the number of foreign-born residents. But the immigration issue has divided the city as well: Sen. George LeMieux, from Orlando, has been on the fence about immigration, although elected officials did sign a petition protesting Arizona's law.

Robert Sumner / Getty Images

17. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA

Immigrant Population: 513,571

Percent of Total: 15.57%

Between 1990 and 2000, Seattle's population significantly increased, even though the city remained a "childless" city. The reason? A large wave of immigrants from Asia, Europe, and Latin America. The experience has also filtered into the artistic community: a Seattle-based artist Eroyn Franklin created an art exhibit dedicated to detained immigrants.

Ben Blankenburg

18. Austin-Round Rock, TX

Immigrant Population: 228,455

Percent of Total: 14.63%

As the capital of Texas, which shares the largest border with Mexico, Austin has long attracted many immigrants. Although Texas Gov. Rick Perry has denounced Arizona's tough immigration laws, and the city of Austin has considered severing ties with Arizona to protest their law, the city might have a more complicated relationship with immigrants than it claims. Despite being heralded as a liberal outpost and immigrant-friendly, the Immigration Policy Center in Washington said Travis County—Austin's home county—has allegedly been arresting and deporting some legal and unauthorized immigrants, even those with little or no criminal history.

John Amis / AP Photo

19. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA

Immigrant Population: 674,422

Percent of Total: 12.84%

Long one of the most diverse cities in the country, the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta region became home to some large immigrant populations starting in the 1970s and ‘80s. By 2010, one in 10 people in Atlanta was born outside the United States. The debate over immigration has become white-hot for politicians, especially for GOP candidates, who have focused on the issue of admitting illegal immigrants to state universities, and many in the state have called for Arizona-style laws.

20. Denver-Aurora, CO

Immigrant Population: 309,255

Percent of Total: 12.6%

Despite beginning as a last-resort mining town—and hosting a Klan member as mayor in the 1920s—Denver has since grown into a diverse modern metropolis. People identifying themselves as Hispanic account for a third of the city's population. But the city has not always had a smooth experience: In 2008, an illegal immigrant in Aurora with a criminal record allegedly caused a traffic accident that left three people dead, and calls were made for mugshots, fingerprints, and immigration status inquiries of anyone booked into jail. And earlier this year, Denver residents held an 8,000-people strong rally in support of Arizona's immigration laws.