Baby steps

Amid the hysteria over Arizona's immigration crackdown, Americans shouldn't forget that newcomers crossing the border aren't the only influence on the shifting racial makeup of our nation's population. The United States is edging toward the historic point at which more babies will be born each year to minorities than to whites.

Census data released last week show that while whites still make up two-thirds of the nation's recorded population, their fertility rates lag, especially behind those of Latinos.

Minorities accounted for 48.6 percent of all U.S. births in 2009, up more than half a percentage point from the year before. The tipping point probably will come in the next couple of years. "You're seeing America change from the bottom up," says Kenneth Johnson, a University of New Hampshire demographer who tracks the data. "More and more, it's not because of immigration."

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizenship to any baby delivered on U.S. soil, whatever the parents' immigration status. Yet many of the ethnic Latino children chiefly driving this trend are being born to parents who are full-fledged U.S. citizens. As of 2008, almost 40 percent of Hispanic children under age 5 had two native-born parents: Speaking English, paying taxes and contributing their labor to society will be no more of an issue for these kids than for any other young Americans.

Mostly because of its healthier birth rate, America won't be faced with the economic consequences of a shrinking population heavily skewed toward the aged — a dilemma confronting Western Europe and Japan.

Remember all of the variables driving this nation's population trends when lawmakers finally get around to debating immigration reform, hopefully later this year.

Emotions will be raw. But keep in mind that change is coming already, in the most natural way possible.

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