Since 2010, the population of the United States has increased by 5.5%. Nearly half of that population growth was due to international immigration. Of the net 7.2 million new residents to come to America in the last eight years, 3.5 million settled in just 10 metropolitan areas.
Immigrants move to large U.S. cities for a number of reasons: job opportunities, ease of entry, and the presence of existing immigrant communities from their home country. While historically the largest metropolitan areas on each coast — New York and Los Angeles — have attracted the most international immigrants, there are a number of cities throughout the United States with highly diverse populations.
To determine America’s melting pot cities, 24/7 Wall St. ranked metro areas based on the likelihood that two residents picked at random would be from two different world regions: the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, Latin America, and other parts of North America.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Andre Perry, fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, said, “Where there are strong anchors for immigrant groups, social relatives will go there. If you have a strong Guatemalan community, for instance, in New Orleans, you’ll see more people from Guatemala come to New Orleans.” In many cities with the highest levels of diversity, the flow of immigrants today mirrors historical migration patterns consistent throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of these cities have acted as melting pots for new immigrants for decades.
The demographic composition of many Californian cities with large Hispanic populations were shaped by the agriculture industry. According to Perry, “The number one reason people immigrate is jobs.” California has a relatively favorable agricultural climate that allows a rich variety of crops to flourish throughout the state, and grows more than one-third of the country’s vegetables and over two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. The state’s massive agriculture sector provides significant opportunities for Mexican immigrants, many of whom came to the United States to fill labor shortages during World War II under the Bracero Program. Today, California is home to 10 of the 20 cities with the most diversity.
Geography also plays a major role in diversity. Just as New York and Los Angeles were the primary destinations for immigrants crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by boat in the 19th and 20th century, towns along the U.S.-Mexico border are the destination for many new residents crossing into the country from Latin America. Five of the 20 cities on this list are located along the U.S.-Mexico border: El Paso, Laredo, and McAllen, Texas; El Centro, California; and Yuma, Arizona.
To determine America’s melting pot cities, 24/7 Wall St. ranked metro areas based on the likelihood that two residents picked at random would be from two different world regions: the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, Latin America, and other parts of North America. The measure refers to the birthplace of the current residents. The index is based on the share of residents of a specific national origin with data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey and is the sum total of the individual probabilities that two residents will not share a national origin. The same method is used in the USA Today Diversity Index. Supplemental data on race, ancestry, income, poverty, and population also came from the Census Bureau. Data on unemployment came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Correction: Due to a data processing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly listed the origin of the largest immigrant groups for the metropolitan areas in this piece. This error has been corrected.