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Report: Immigrants from Middle East to US Soaring - 2002-08-15

A recent report of the Washington-based Immigration Study Center said one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the United States comes from the Middle East. The study is based on data from the U.S. government's 2000 census.

The report published by the Center for Immigration Studies said the number of immigrants from the Middle East has soared nearly 800 percent in the past three decades, from fewer than 200,000 in 1970 to about 1.5 million in the year 2000. That total is projected to double in the next decade.

The report, however, shows a slight decline in the number of immigrants coming from Israel.

CIS director of research, Steven Camarota, said most Muslim immigrants are coming from Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Bangladesh. "We found that almost half the Middle Eastern immigrants have a college education, compared to 28 percent of U.S. natives. We also looked at their income and there too they compare very favorably to natives, that is their income is at least as high as natives," Mr. Camarota said.

California has the largest Middle Eastern immigrant population, nearly 400,000. The major cities of Texas, Michigan and New York and the suburbs of Washington D.C are also key destinations.

Mr. Camarota shows three out of four immigrants from the region today are Muslim. In the past, most immigrants from the region were members of religious minorities fleeing persecution.

Conservative political analyst Daniel Pipes, who directs the Middle East Forum, also tracks the ebb and flow of Middle East immigration. He said Middle Easterners are attracted to the United States as a place of refuge but also as a place of economic and educational advancement.

In the wake of last year's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Mr. Pipes also voices concern over what he sees as a rise of a militant Islamic voice within the American Muslim community.

But government studies professor Peter Skerry also sees rising tensions within the communities as Muslim families, especially their U.S.-born children, try to adapt to the American lifestyle.

"I think it's quite evident that Islam in the United States is moving in new directions, moving in multiple directions and becoming more and more diverse and more and more fragmented in the United States," Mr. Skerry said.

Researcher Steven Camarota said the rising number of immigrants from the Middle East is sure to have an impact on U.S. policies, especially toward the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"Opinion polls indicate that Middle East immigrants are very dissatisfied with U.S. policy toward the Arab Israeli conflict and would like to see less, unequivocal support for Israel and much more support for the Palestinian cause," Mr. Camarota said.

Professor Skerry agrees the Muslim community now is seeking a stronger political voice much the way other immigrant communities have done in the past.