America’s Melting Pot Cities

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10. Laredo, TX
> Pct. born abroad: 28.3%
> Pct. of foreign-born gained citizenship: 26.6%
> Origin of largest immigrant group: Mexico (94.8% of foreign-born pop.)
> Population increase due to international immigration, 2010-17: +2.8%

The nation’s melting pot metropolitan areas are, generally, either the most affluent in the country or the poorest. Laredo falls squarely into the latter category. Just under one-third of the population lives at or below the poverty line, the highest poverty rate of any U.S. metropolitan area. And almost half of impoverished households have incomes of $10,000 or less a year.

Located along the U.S.-Mexico border, Laredo has the second largest share of Mexican-born residents of any metro area. Some 26.8% of Laredo residents were born in Mexico, more than seven times the 3.7% national figure. Many Mexican immigrants lack a high school diploma, which limits their job opportunities — one reason for the area’s high poverty. Just 67.0% of Laredo’s adults have a high school diploma, the second smallest share in the country.

Source: Ron Johnson / Wikimedia Commons

9. Merced, CA
> Pct. born abroad: 26.4%
> Pct. of foreign-born gained citizenship: 40.3%
> Origin of largest immigrant group: Mexico (72.0% of foreign-born pop.)
> Population increase due to international immigration, 2010-17: +0.9%

Like many cities in the San Joaquin Valley, Merced has attracted large numbers of Hispanic farmworkers to its agriculture industry — the fifth largest in California — over the past several decades. Some 57.5% of the Merced population today is of Hispanic or Latino descent, the 11th largest share of any city.

One factor that contributes to the high level of diversity in Merced is the city’s large Hmong population. The Hmong first began to settle in Merced in the 1970s after the Laotian Civil War, fleeing communist persecution. Hmong immigrants comprised approximately one-fifth of the Merced population by 1997, and they continued to flock to the city in large numbers. While the Hmong population has thinned out in recent years, Merced is home to the fourth largest share of Laos- and Thailand-born residents of any metro area.

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8. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL
> Pct. born abroad: 27.0%
> Pct. of foreign-born gained citizenship: 45.1%
> Origin of largest immigrant group: Mexico (21.9% of foreign-born pop.)
> Population increase due to international immigration, 2010-17: +5.1%

Unlike many of the melting pot metropolitan areas on this list, Naples has a relatively large white population — 64.2% of the population identifies as white, slightly larger than the national share of 62.0%. However, many of these white residents are not native born. Of the metro area’s 365,000 residents, about 5% were born in Europe, the largest share of any metro area. Also, about one in five Naples residents were born in Latin American countries.

Naples, like many of the nation’s melting pot metro areas, is also one of the fastest growing. The population increased more than sevenfold from 1970 to 2010, much of it due to international migration.

Source: Cbl62 / Wikimedia Commons

7. El Centro, CA
> Pct. born abroad: 29.9%
> Pct. of foreign-born gained citizenship: 51.0%
> Origin of largest immigrant group: Mexico (92.4% of foreign-born pop.)
> Population increase due to international immigration, 2010-17: +1.7%

Located on the U.S.-Mexico border, El Centro has one of the largest Mexican populations of any U.S. metro area. Many Hispanic workers immigrated to El Centro to work in the nearby Imperial Valley agriculture industry, which is one of the largest producers of spinach, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and onions in California. Some 27.6% of El Centro residents today were born in Mexico, the largest share of any metro area.

El Centro’s workforce may be even more diverse than the city’s population. During the peak harvest season, tens of thousands of farmworkers commute from the Mexican city of Mexicali to agriculture jobs in Imperial Valley. The cross-border commuters may also partially explain the conflicting reports of labor shortages and high unemployment in El Centro. The metro area’s unemployment rate is reported as 19.1%, the highest of any city.

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6. Salinas, CA
> Pct. born abroad: 31.1%
> Pct. of foreign-born gained citizenship: 24.8%
> Origin of largest immigrant group: Mexico (74.9% of foreign-born pop.)
> Population increase due to international immigration, 2010-17: +1.6%

Salinas, California, is home to one of the largest agricultural sectors in the country. The area produces more than half the nation’s leaf lettuce and celery, and more than a third of its broccoli and spinach. According to the area’s chamber of commerce, more than one-quarter of area households rely on the agriculture industry for income. Much of the area’s farms are tended to by migrant workers and their families. The vast majority of migrant workers in the United States were born in Mexico. Just under three quarters of Salinas’ foreign born population is from Mexico.