'Immigrant suburbs' emerge in latest census sweep

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 17, 2013 - 9:58 PM

Foreign-born populations are moving out of the central cities. Even outer-ring suburbs are becoming more culturally and racially diverse.

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Yussuf Shafie admits it wasn’t easy being among the first Somali immigrants to arrive in Burnsville’s schools.

“It wasn’t as diverse as it is today, I’ll tell you that. It was hard to communicate with peers and stuff.”

But now that there’s a “huge Somali population” in the area, he says, things are going swimmingly at his year-old Tawakal Restaurant in the suburb’s downtown. Nor is the place just for immigrants; it functions as an easy point of contact for all kinds of cultures.

“It’s open to everyone who has a wallet,” he cheerfully declares. “If you have a wallet, we can get along!”

He is part of what one analyst on Tuesday called a “dramatic shift” of immigrants out of the central cities after the U.S. Census Bureau released its latest batch of data tracing demographic change.

Burnsville and Eagan emerge among the state’s top 10 destinations for East Africans, while nearby Shakopee is among the leaders for Southeast Asians. Eden Prairie is the state’s leading home for immigrants from India.

“We recently did an analysis showing that every big minority group is now majority suburban,” said University of Minnesota demographer Will Craig.

“Asians made that move between 1990 and 2000, going from 54 to 49 percent central cities. Blacks went majority suburban a little later, going from 65 percent urban in 2000 to 49 percent in 2010. Latinos were at 53, 54 percent urban for two decades but then dropped really fast in the last decade, down to 40 percent urban.”

Those moves are visible in a new online mapping program the Census Bureau unveiled on Tuesday, called Census Explorer. The program allows people to easily trace key changes in their own neighborhoods from 1990 to 2000 to today.

“It’s extremely easy to operate,” said census spokesman Seth Amgott. “By toggling back and forth, you can see how any area has changed.”

The most recent batch of data is actually a five-year summary, from 2008 to 2012, but it will serve for many as a proxy for 2010, the most natural year of comparison, since it is centered on 2010.

The greatest value of Tuesday’s release is its ability to hone in on localized changes, such as the Burnsville neighborhood in the vicinity of Shafie’s restaurant that soared from 3 percent to 22 percent foreign-born in the course of 20 years.

During that period, Minnesota’s overall foreign-born population was nearly tripling, from 2.6 percent in 1990 to 7.2 percent today. And that’s a bigger chunk, too, of what is also a much more heavily populated state, with about a million more residents than 20 years ago.

The suburbanization of immigrants results from a “combination of things,” said Jane Tigan, a research associate with Minnesota Compass, a unit of Wilder Research that puts demographic data online at www.mncompass.org.

“As immigrants have been here longer, they’re more likely to work and be more stable economically, and have the ability to move to the suburbs if desired,” she said. “Some suburbs are changing, too, with prices that are not prohibitive, that are affordable for many.

“But there are differing patterns for different groups as well. Immigrants are strongly represented on both the upper and lower end of the education spectrum, both more likely to have an advanced degree and more likely to have not much education. So there are different kinds of foreign-born.”

Thus, for instance, well-educated immigrants from India are present in large numbers in Eden Prairie, Plymouth and Edina.

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