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Minority Populations Growing in Many US Districts

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that black, Asian, Hispanic and other minority populations are expanding in many districts where whites were once dominant. VOA's Brian Wagner reports that experts say the changes may strain race relations and immigrant ties, especially in some smaller communities.

Big U.S. cities have long been centers of diversity, where many minorities and immigrants make their homes. But new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that minority communities are expanding in several parts of the nation, and in some cases surpassing the size of white communities. Officials say one in 10 counties [districts within states] now are home to more minority residents than whites.

For decades, south Florida has been home to many Hispanic immigrants who are now moving to areas with smaller minority populations, says Emily Eisenhauer of Florida International University. "Immigrant and Hispanic families have tended to be moving out of Miami and into northern Florida, towards smaller communities. That is a trend I would not be surprised to see in the rest of the country too."

Fellow researcher Alejandro Angee adds that many minorities move out of big cities in search of the same comforts as other Americans. "Whether you are African-American, from Asia, Latin America -- after you establish yourself in the country for awhile, you begin to think and act as a typical American family and look for the same things: a bigger house, a place where you do not have to drive an hour to work."

Experts say expanding minority numbers are partly a result of higher birth rates among minorities and the flow of new immigrants.

Maria Rodriguez, of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, says the changing balance between minority and majority white populations is likely to have a political impact. "One of the most important factors when talking about immigrants and political power is that immigrants now have more power across the country. It is not limited to areas traditionally considered immigrant."

Immigration has been a hot political topic this year, as President Bush pressed Congress to approve sweeping changes to immigration rules and border security. The proposals failed to win approval, partly over concerns about illegal immigration. As the debate continues about needed reforms, Angee says the latest census data may polarize the issue.

"Activists who would like to see a community integrated and more diverse, might push a little more. On the other hand, we might have a push of people saying we do not want these [immigrants] in our community."

Still, researcher Eisenhauer expresses hope that the spread of minority populations in the country will foster increased efforts at integration among different groups.

"Discrimination still exists. But most people that I have talked to seem to be pretty tolerant and are able to laugh at things that happen. I am pretty optimistic as far as small communities go."

Last year, the census reported the U.S. minority population had grown to more than 100 million people. Officials predict minority residents will account for half of the nation's population by 2050.