Colombian immigration

2011-02-09 09:11:33

The Colombian community in the United States is ethnically diverse and forms the largest immigrant group from South America. Generally, Colombians have maintained close ties to their home country and have thus been slow to assimilate. Because of Colombia’s history of relations with United States, settlement in Canada has always been small. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 470,684 Americans and 15,865 Canadians claimed Colombian descent. New York City; Chicago, Illinois; and Miami, Florida; have the highest concentrations of Colombian Americans. The largest Colombian communities in Canada are in Toronto and Montreal.
Colombia occupies 400,600 square miles of northwestern South America between 13 degrees north latitude and 4 degrees south latitude. Venezuela lies to the north and to the east along with Brazil. Peru and Ecuador lie to the south; the Pacific Ocean, Panama, and the Caribbean Sea are to the west. Several chains of the Andes run north to south in the western half of the country. Rich plains cover the northernmost regions, while more barren flatlands cover the east. In 2002, the population was estimated at 40,349,388, with more than 6 million in the urban area of Bogotá. The majority of the people claim Roman Catholicism as their religion. Colombians are ethnically divided among mestizos, who make up 58 percent of the population; whites, who compose another 20 percent; mulattos, 14 percent; and blacks, 4 percent. In the early 16th century, Spain conquered the native peoples who inhabited Colombia and ruled there until the area gained its independence in 1819 and the republic of Gran Colombia was founded. In 1830, the confederation collapsed when Venezuela and Ecuador withdrew to form independent nations, and small numbers of Colombians began to emigrate. From 1830 to 1886, the remaining territory of Gran Colombia went through various political transformations (and names), ending with the establishment of Colombia. After World War I, there was a significant migration of Colombian professionals, mainly to New York City. By 1930, perhaps as many as 25,000 Colombians had immigrated there. Throughout the 20th century, Colombia was ravaged by political violence in both rural and urban areas, in the last quarter century often linked to the activities of powerful drug-trafficking cartels. Political unrest between 1945 and 1955 was a powerful spur to immigration, leading a largely middle-class, white community to settle in Queens, New York. With their country in deep economic recession during the 1960s, Colombian immigration increased significantly and became more diversified, with the largest number of immigrants coming from mixed ancestry groups. According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), almost 120,000 entered the country between 1960 and 1977. In 1999, an earthquake struck Colombia, killing more than 1,100 and displacing an additional 250,000. Immigration continued to increase during the 1990s, along with nationwide protests against political violence and human rights violations. Between 1990 and 2002, about 190,000 Colombians immigrated to the United States, many joining family members already in the country. In 2000, the U.S. appropriated $1.3 billion to help Colombia fight drug trafficking, and right-wing paramilitary forces began a campaign against leftist guerrillas.
Although most Colombians entered the United States legally, it was estimated by the INS that in 2002 there were 141,000 unauthorized Colombians in the United States, making them the fourth largest unauthorized group, behind Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Unofficial estimates place the figure at more than twice that number. Canada was never a popular destination for Colombians. Most immigrants are recent. Of Canada’s 15,500 Colombians, 6,480 arrived between 1996 and 2001. Many were well educated, immigrating to take advantage of economic opportunities. Most Colombians living in Canada were born in South America.