WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate has passed a landmark immigration reform bill, which is now likely to face fierce opposition in the House of Representatives. Experts say if some form of substantial reform is enacted into law, the immigration population is likely to remain diverse, with a continuing trend of more arrivals from Latin America, Asia and Africa, and fewer than in the past from Europe.
At the Smithsonian's annual Folklife Festival, there were signs of cultural diversity everywhere. There was African drumming along with Hungarian food, crafts and an exhibit dedicated to saving endangered languages.
Festival-goer Thomas Kurihara from California says his family is from Japan, and he was interned after the Second World War in a U.S. relocation camp for Japanese Americans. Kurihara says he believes it is time for Congress to pass immigration reform.
"I believe that as a nation of immigrants, there needs to be a means by which immigrants legal or illegal who enter the U.S. should have a pathway to citizenship and not have to wait half a lifetime, half a generation," he said.
Another festival-goer from Virginia, who declined to be named or be interviewed on tape, said she believes it is not fair that some illegal immigrants are allowed to stay, while others, for example from Africa she said, would be deported if they made it to the United States.
Demetrios Papademetriou is president of the Migration Policy Institute. He says if Congress passes substantial reform legislation, which still includes many of the provisions in the Senate bill, current trends in immigration are likely to continue and accelerate.
"So ultimately what you are likely to see, is a deepening and broadening of migration from Latin America, by that I mean Central America and the rest of the hemisphere. You are likely to see once more a deepening and broadening of the migration to be from Asia. You will see a much larger percentage of the migration from Asia to be Filipino," he said.
According to data from the Migration Policy Institute, in 1960, almost 75 percent of the foreign-born population in the United States came from Europe. In 2011, only 12 percent of foreign-born people living in the United States were from Europe, and almost 53 percent came from Latin America. The 1965 Immigration Act ended the national-origin quotas that were favorable to Europe. Immigration from Africa increased from 0.4 percent in 1960 to 4 percent in 2011.
The newly-passed Senate bill would provide visas for high-skilled workers, which Papademetriou says will likely attract many talented people from around the world, including Europeans. "I suspect that many more Europeans will take advantage of this opportunity than they have had in the past," he said.
Papademetriou says he believes that passing immigration reform will be a long and difficult process, but he is optimistic it will happen. "I think that we are a long way from passage, but I think so many people have really invested so much political capital in making it happen this time," he said.
Experts say that regardless of whether immigration reform passes, the United States will continue to become a more ethnically diverse country, and that there is also a trend of more people from different ethnic groups intermarrying and intermingling.