One in three black residents in Miami is now an immigrant, a reflection of a nationwide trend that shows immigrants making up a rising share of the country’s black population, according to a new Pew Research Center study.
Perhaps not surprising, most of the black migration in Miami and across the country has come from the Caribbean where President Barack Obama traveled this week on the first presidential visit to Jamaica in three decades.
“We are not just nations, we’re also neighbors,” Obama told the enthusiastic crowd at the University of West Indies in Jamaica. “Tens of millions of Americans are bound to the Caribbean and the Americas through ties of commerce, but also ties of kin. More than one million Americans trace their ancestry to Jamaica.”
The number of black immigrants in the United States has more than quadrupled since 1980. The growth is expected to continue. The Census Bureau projects that by 2060, 16.5 percent of U.S. blacks will be immigrants. In all, there are 3.8 million black immigrants in the country today. And that number is expected to reach 11.9 million by 2060.
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The Miami metro area has the largest share of black immigrants. Thirty four percent of the black population in Miami are immigrants compared to 28 percent in New York and 15 percent in Washington.
More than 28,000 native-born Jamaicans live in Miami-Dade County. But it’s not the greatest source of black immigrants. That honor goes to Haiti – with more than 70,000 residents – which accounts for nearly half of the black immigrant population in the Miami metro area.
The Pew study notes that most of the nation’s 40 million U.S. -born blacks are descendants of slaves. But when slavery was made illegal, the flow of black people in the United States “dropped to a trickle” of Caribbean immigrants, the report found. The modern wave of black immigration was set off by various immigration laws, including those that sought to increase the number of immigrants from underrepresented countries.
Much of the recent growth has been driven by African nations. Africans now make up 36 percent of the total foreign-born black population compared to just 7 percent in 1980.
Unlike places like California and Georgia where Mexican and Central American immigrants have dominated immigrant growth, Florida has always been its own special melting pot. The Sunshine state draws its immigrants from all over globe, from Africa to Colombia to Cuba to Russia.
“It’s a place that is diverse in its immigrant stock in a way that other parts of the country aren’t necessarily diverse,” said Mark Lopez, director of Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center.
The growth is not surprising to Eddy Edwards, a Miami businessman and organizer of the Jamaican Jerk Festival. He sees Obama’s visit to Jamaica as sign of the island community’s growing clout in the United States. He rattles off a list of influential leaders with Jamaican roots, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and musician/activist Harry Belafonte.
Originally from Jamaica, Edwards moved to Miami in 1981. He remembers when there were only a handful of Jamaican businesses, such as the Pepper Pot restaurant where local Jamaicans could eat curried goat, talk gossip, and listen to reggae over a couple beers. Now, he says, there are easily more than 200 restaurants and businesses run by local Jamaicans and Jamaican-Americans.
“Like everyone else, Jamaicans came seeking better opportunities,” Edwards said in an interview. “And then what is also happening is there are a number of folk up north who are retiring or relocating to the warmer climate in the south.”