"This is a Historical Record of the Old Chicago Council on Global Affairs Website. Are you Looking for the Current Site?"

A View from Indiana

Demographic Trends and Data


In 1990, immigrants made up 2% of Indiana’s total population. That percentage grew to 3% in 2000, and to 5% in 2010. The figures below compare the share of the immigrant population in Indiana compared with other states in the Midwest, and the growth of that population in 2010. The foreign-born population in Indiana grew by 219% between 1990 and 2010.


Since FY 2000, Indiana has resettled 9,579 refugees from 39 countries. Most of those refugees came to the United States from: Burma (6,049), Thailand (595), the former Yugoslavia (590), Somalia (459), and the former Soviet Union (420). In addition, around 112 asylees settle in Indiana each year. Refugees from Burma have made up the vast majority of these refugees in recent years while arrivals from the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union continue to decline. As of FY 2010, refugees have made up around 2.8% of the state’s total foreign-born population. While most Midwestern states have hosted a growing number of Burmese refugees in recent years, Indiana is notable for the sheer number it has resettled as compared to other refugee populations in the state. The forced displacement of ethnic Karen and Chin minorities, a byproduct of longstanding civil conflict, has long been a major humanitarian issue in Burma (commonly known as Myanmar). A series of government crackdowns and military incursions into ethnic minority regions in recent years contributed to the already burgeoning number of refugees living along the Thai border. The UNHCR estimates that the number is more than 400,000. Many of these new arrivals were barred from legal status by a Thai government frustrated with the buildup of refugees along its borders. In light of the looming humanitarian crisis, in 2005 the United States agreed to resettle several thousand Burmese, many of which have arrived in Indiana over the past few years. Fort Wayne, the state’s second largest city, has become home to the largest community of Burmese refugees in the country. Indianapolis has also become a major hub for ethnic Karen, Karenni, and Chin Burmese refugees, which currently make up around 95% of the city’s refugee population. Many volunteer agencies expect that secondary migration from other Burmese communities will bolster the Indianapolis’ population in the coming years. A number of volunteer agencies assist with refugee resettlement in Indiana. Chief among them are: Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc. (Fort Wayne); Catholic Charities (Gary); Catholic Charities Indianapolis (Indianapolis); Exodus Refugee/Immigration, Inc. (Indianapolis); Refugee Services of South Bend (South Bend).


The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the proportion of undocumented immigrants, as a share of the total population of Indiana, has increased 135% between 1990 and 2010, though the proportion of undocumented persons remains very small. The source of these data is the U.S. Census Bureau’s March Current Population Surveys.” It is important to emphasize that these numbers are only broad estimates. The actual numbers may be quite different. The figure below compares the estimated percent of the total population that is undocumented in Indiana among the 12 Midwestern states and the United States.


Seven percent of the population in Indianapolis suburbs were foreign-born in 2010, compared with 5% of urban and 1% of rural residents. Between 2000 and 2010, the population increased most dramatically in suburban areas. An examination of data on all of the immigrants living in metropolitan areas in Indiana demonstrates that the overwhelming majority (39%) live in Indianapolis. Other metropolitan areas in Indiana saw their share of Foreign-born residents decrease between 2000 and 2010.


In Indiana, and across the region, in 2010 a larger percentage of immigrants (58%) than US-born residents (50%) were currently married. Not surprisingly, the total household size of the foreign-born was also larger—3.4 individuals, compared with 2.5 for the native-born. Household members can be either relatives, or unrelated individuals.

Immigration History

The first significant influx of foreign-born immigrants to Indiana was a contingent of Swiss surveyors in 1796. This group was joined by other Swiss immigrants and, in 1803, they founded the colony of Vevay along the Ohio River in southeast Indiana. German immigrants set up a colony at New Harmony in 1814. But by 1825, they had sold their land and moved on. More Germans came to the state in 1848, fleeing the March Revolution. Most of these immigrants settled in the southeast, near the Swiss enclaves. Two years later, German immigrants began making their way into Indiana’s metropolitan areas; namely Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. In 1850, 14 percent of Indianapolis was German. By 1900, Fort Wayne was 80 percent German. Yet the state continued to foster only a small foreign-born population, which led to growing fears of economic decline and irrelevance. In an attempt to allay these concerns, Acting Governor Conrad Baker appointed a classical scholar named John A. Wilstach to the position of “Commissioner for the Encouragement of Emigration to the State of Indiana” in 1866. Wilstach was sent as an envoy to Paris to attend the 1867 World’s Fair. He was charged with distributing a pamphlet extolling the virtues and opportunities of emigration to Indiana. Despite these and other such inducements, Indiana has maintained a low level of foreign-born migration. In 1960, only 2 percent of the state’s population was born outside of the United States. Most of these were post-World War II German immigrants. They joined the long-standing German communities, both in Indianapolis and rural Indiana, where sizable Amish communities, comprised largely of people of German ancestry, continue to dwell today. The Amish communities in rural Indiana maintain a strong Germanic identity. As of 2000, 8,000 Indianans still spoke the German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch, which was favored by the state’s early Amish settlers from the Prussian states of Central Europe, by way of New England. In 1970, the first Mexican immigrants began arriving, spurred by Mexico’s sluggish economy and the availability of jobs in agriculture and manufacturing. While the number of Hispanic immigrants in Indiana has continued to grow over the past 40 years, it remains quite low relative to most neighboring states. This is true of the state’s foreign-born population as a whole. Yet Hispanic immigrants now make up the state’s largest foreign-born group, and the number of those reporting Spanish as the language spoken at home was 249,623 as of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Communities Survey.


In its simplest form ‘immigrant assimilation’ refers to a process whereby, over time, immigrants become indistinguishable from native-born residents.  This process is neither one-way, nor linear, and not all changes lead to improved status.  It also ignores the myriad ways in which native-born residents are influenced by immigrants. To the general public two of the most visible markers of assimilation are language proficiency and socio-economic status.  Clusters of poor, ethnically or racially distinct foreign-born residents with low levels of schooling and English proficiency perpetuate perceptions of difference and foster the impression that contemporary immigrants are not assimilating as quickly as white Europeans who came to the US at the beginning of the 20th century.  Unfortunately, such perceptions are rarely accompanied by analyses of barriers to assimilation, or support for programs that might accelerate the integration of new immigrants. Differences in such measures as English language ability, home ownership and income depend upon much more than whether an individual was born outside or inside of the US.  There are important differences in the ease of assimilation that depend upon the age and skill level that an immigrant has when he or she enters the country, and the kinds of opportunities that are available after arrival.  It is important to keep these factors in mind when comparing the experiences of immigrants in various states or regions of the US.


The general public often perceives immigrants to be concentrated in low-level jobs, but in actuality immigrant workers are fairly well dispersed across the skills spectrum; the most rapid growth in the employment of immigrants since 2000 has been in middle-skilled jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a college degree.  However the greatest increase in projected numbers of new jobs are in those that require low-levels of education and training.  Between 1990 and 2006 the share of immigrant workers in each of the four employment sectors increased dramatically and outpaced the increase in native-born workers’ jobs in rate of increase, but not in absolute numbers, with the exception of construction. Median earnings for the foreign-born and native-born in Indiana are shown below for 2010, and then median earnings of the foreign-born are further stratified by period of entry.  It can be noted that the foreign-born who arrived in the earlier waves before 1990, or between 1990 and 2000, have higher median earnings than those who have arrived more recently.


In 2006 46% of foreign-born workers earned “family-sustaining wages,” compared to 59% of native-born workers. The percentages of foreign-born and native-born living below 100% of the Poverty Level in Indiana are shown below for 2010. One indication of assimilation over time is that the poverty rate for naturalized citizens was considerably lower than that for non-citizens, and even lower than that for native-born citizens. Because immigrants must be legal permanent residents for at least five years before naturalizing, the income difference may indicate that incomes are improving over time. It could also be the result of a “self selection” effect, whereby those individuals who elect to become citizens, and who learn enough English and civics to pass the citizenship test are also those who will achieve some economic success. It is likely that both factors are at work. Immigrants who were born in Asia and Europe had considerably higher mean incomes than those born in Latin America (not shown). Some kinds of demographic and socio-economic data are only available for racial/ethnic groups, rather than for immigrants. In the absence of data on such measures as home or business ownership among immigrant groups it may be of interest to compare these measures for Hispanics or Asians with the important caveat that the comparisons include a majority of native-born residents. Data on business ownership from the 2010 Census shows that the total Asian population (native and foreign-born) in Indiana own businesses in the state equal to their share of the total population; however, consistent with Midwest trends, the Hispanic population own businesses at a lower rate than their proportion of the population. Although the percentages of Indiana businesses owned by US- or foreign-born Asians and Hispanics are small, they account for 8,756 and 8,558 firms respectively. The positive impact of immigrant integration into the business sector in Indiana is additionally indicated by the fact that in 2007 immigrant businesses had combined sales and receipts of $5.1 billion in Indiana, and employed 39,034 workers.


Asians and Hispanics/Latinos have rates of home ownership that are similar to those in other Midwest states. In the 2007 American Community Survey, the percentage of all Hispanics (foreign-born and native-born) who were homeowners was 34%. Of the entire Asian population in Indiana, 56% were homeowners.


Immigrants in Indiana, and throughout the Midwest, had both higher and lower levels of education than native-born residents in 2010. By this we mean that they were both much more likely to have less than a high school diploma, and slightly more likely to have a graduate or professional degree. Educational attainment is a very important dimension of integration, as it is strongly related to other dimensions of integration such as income and English language proficiency. Nationally and in the Midwest, the children of immigrants tend to achieve higher levels of education than their parents, although Caucasian and Asian youth go further in school than do Hispanics (or African Americans, few of whom are foreign-born). In Indiana, graduation rates were lower for Hispanic students (foreign-born and native-born combined) than for their Caucasian and Asian peers. Similarly, the Hispanic dropout rate in Indiana in the 2007-2008 school year (2.4 %) was over three times that of Asian students (0.7%) and one and a half times the rate for white students (1.6%). State testing data has come under scrutiny in recent years because of the connection between measures of student performance and federal funding levels. However, if the data can be believed, state tests in Indiana leave some room for optimism regarding improved student performance. According to the U.S. Department of Education, grade 8 students from all racial and ethnic groups demonstrated improved scores on state assessments of math and reading between 2004-05 and 2009-10, with an all-student increase of 4% in math and 12% in reading. The scores for Hispanic students went up at higher rates than these state-wide averages. Despite the challenges facing Hispanic students, national data show that second generation immigrants exceed their parents’ education levels. Higher educational attainment among members of the second-generation is not specific to Mexicans; it is consistent across all immigrant groups.


English Proficiency is collected by self-report in the Census and American Community Survey. Respondents can respond that they do not speak English, speak English only, or speak another language in addition to English. This final group is then divided further as they indicate how well they speak English as either “Very well,” “Well,” or “Not well.” The chart below compares English Proficiency in the foreign-born population, showing the percent of the foreign-born who identified themselves as speaking English “Well,” “Very Well,” or as their native/only language. There was a slight increase in the percentage of those speaking English well or better from 2000 to 2010 that is not significant; small levels of change may be due to sampling error; larger differences are likely be due to a combination of English language learning by foreign-born over time and higher English proficiency levels of more recent immigrants. In 2010 74% of immigrants spoke English well, very well or fluently. This was on the low end of the spectrum of states in the Midwest, perhaps because of differences in the makeup of the foreign-born population or recency of arrival. Another factor in English ability may be the availability of programs for limited proficiency adults. Levels of English language learning vary significantly within and between immigrant groups. More important than country of origin is the age at which an individual entered the US, and his or her level of education and literacy in their native language. In Indiana, 7.8% of the total state population spoke a language other than English at home in 2010, and 3% of the total population spoke English less than very well. . Two percent of households were linguistically isolated (meaning that all members of the household age 14 and over were limited English proficient). The percentage of foreign-born residents who are limited English proficient (LEP) has remained relatively high over the years. As would be expected, the children of immigrants in speak English at a much higher average rate than the total population of foreign-born in the state. Similarly, immigrants who have naturalized as U.S. citizens (and who are likely to have been in the country longer) have lower rates of LEP than noncitizens. Linguistic integration, like other measures of integration, varies among different immigrant groups. Among the foreign-born ages 5 and older in Indiana in 2009, those who spoke Spanish at home had the highest percent LEP, compared to speakers of Asian and Pacific, Indo-European, or other languages at home. Though Hispanics in Indiana and across the Midwest are more likely to be LEP than other groups, national data show that, in comparison to predominantly white, European immigrants from the early 20th Century, contemporary Hispanic and Latino immigrants learn English at faster rates within the first five years of arrival in the United States. The same is true for the population of immigrants who arrived in the country between 1980 and 2000.


One of the clearest measures of integration is the rate at which immigrants become naturalized citizens of the United States. Naturalization not only means becoming an American citizen, but generally also requires a modest demonstration of knowledge of American civics, history basic English language skills. In Indiana, 37% of all immigrants were naturalized citizens in 2010. Of immigrants in Indiana who entered the United States before 1980, 79% were citizens in 2009, the same as the national average. Not surprisingly, immigrants who have been in the country the longest are most likely to naturalize. The figure below compares the percent of naturalized citizens in Indiana and in the other eleven Midwest states, both in 2000 and in 2010. In the 2008 elections, 1.9% of registered voters in Indiana were naturalized citizens or the U.S.-born children of immigrants. This proportion of the voting population is bound to rise, considering that the foreign-born voting-eligible population increased by 28% from 2000-2006, and that 87% of children with immigrant parents in Indiana were U.S. citizens in 2009. As of 2012, however, representation of ethnic minorities among elected officials in Indiana remains disproportionately low relative to their share of the population; while 6% of the total population is Hispanic, only 1% of state legislators are ethnically Hispanic, and no state legislators are Asian, though Asians represent 2% of the total population.


Tomas Jiminez explained the value of intermarriage as an indication of integration by saying, “When individuals marry each other without regard to ethno-racial or national origin, it indicates that the social boundaries between groups are highly permeable.” Jiminez also highlighted the interconnection of various integration measures by pointing out that intermarriage rates are determined, in part, by English language acquisition and socioeconomic status, which shape opportunities to interact with those of different ethnic or national origins. Data on inter-marriages between immigrants and native-born residents is not available, but between 2008 and 2010, 10% of all marriages in Indiana were interracial or interethnic. While lower than the national average of 15%, this figure is nearly equal to the Midwest.



Indiana has the most restrictive laws in the Midwest region related to undocumented immigration. Indiana’s passage of an Arizona-style law enforcement bill is the most visible example, but there are many others that seek to make the state less desirable to undocumented immigrants. In all, 17 state laws have been enacted since 2008.  Some of these are highlighted below.


2011 – Illegal Immigration Matters (IN S 590). This is the SB 1070 clone that instructs local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they have probable cause to believe may be in the state without authorization. The law also mandates the use of E-Verify by public employers and subcontractors. It requires the state office of management and budget to estimate the costs of illegal immigrants to Indiana, and to ask Congress to reimburse Indiana for those costs. 2011 – Department of Child Services (IN S 465). Establishes a review team of domestic violence caseworkers and provides child care for migrants who are victims of domestic violence. 2011 – Prohibiting Resident Tuition for Illegal Aliens (IN H 1402). People who are unlawfully present in the US are not eligible to receive in-state resident tuition benefits. 2010 – Undocumented Immigrants (IN SR 6).  A resolution urging the state legislative council to explore the use of temporary driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. 2010 – Various Motor Vehicle Matters (IN S 407). Drivers licenses are limited to US citizens and lawfully admitted residents. 2009 – Budget Bill (IN H 1001a). Appropriated funds to support English language acquisition. 2009 – Drivers Licenses (IN H 1130). Aliens who are lawfully admitted for temporary residence can receive state identification cards and driver’s permits.

Labor Force Data

The proportion of immigrants in the US labor force almost doubled between 1990 and 2010—from 9 to 16 percent, at a time when the percentage of native-born workers decreased from 91 to 84%. Although the foreign-born workforce makes up a relatively small percentage of the total labor force, it grew at a rate that was seven times faster rate than that for the native-born workforce. Over half of immigrant workers in Indiana were born in Latin America, and a quarter are from Asia. Immigrant workers in the state make up a smaller percentage of the labor force than in the US as a whole. The top industries employing immigrants and US-born workers in Indiana in the state are similar, although foreign-born workers are more likely to work in production, transportation and material moving, and are not heavily employed in sales and office jobs. Indiana had a higher state-wide unemployment rate in January of 2011 than eight other states in the Midwest; immigrants in the construction industry (not shown) were particularly hard-hit. In spite of the recession, demand for immigrant workers continued, and the percentage of foreign-born civilian workers increased by 47% in Indiana and by 40% nationally from 2000-2009. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increased need for workers in a variety of high-skilled and low-skilled occupations, several of which have a shortage of US-born workers. Although the foreign-born workforce makes up a relatively small percentage of the total labor force, it is growing at a much faster rate than the native-born workforce. The foreign-born workforce in the Indiana grew while the native-born labor force decreased over the period from 1990 to 2010.


Indiana has a small,  but rapidly growing foreign-born population.  Between 1990 and 2010 it was one of four states in the Midwest that had an increase of over 200%.  The increases in the foreign-born population and work force  are key to the future prosperity of Indiana and the Midwest region. The most dramatic demographic shift in the United States today is the aging of the population – a development that increases the tax burden on young workers who make payroll contributions to cover the costs of Social Security and Medicare. Aging has been accelerated by the out-migration of young native-born workers, a phenomenon that Rogerson and Kim aptly call “the emptying of the Bread Basket of its breadwinners.” A steady influx of immigrant workers is essential to maintaining a young and productive work force.

Who's Involved


  • Joe Loughrey, Former President and Chief Operating Officer, Cummins, Inc.

    Joe Loughrey was with Cummins Inc.—the world’s largest independent diesel engine manufacturer—for over 35 years until he retired on April 1, 2009. He was Vice Chairman of Cummins since August 1, 2008, served as President and Chief Operating Officer from May 2005 through July 2008, and was a member of its Board of Directors since 2005 and the Board of The Cummins Foundation since 1992.  During Loughrey’s career, Cummins (which is based in Columbus, Indiana) grew into a Fortune 200 company with over 40,000 employees and more than $14.3 billion in sales in 2008.  



  • Allert Brown-Gort, Faculty Fellow, Kellogg Institute for International Studies

    Allert Brown-Gort is Associate Director, Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a Fellow of the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies at Notre Dame. His research interests are immigration policy, and the political opinions and policy priorities of Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant leaders. A citizen of both the United States and Mexico, he has served as an advisor to the Fox administration in Mexico and to the U.S. Senate Hispanic Task Force. Professor Brown-Gort regularly lectures and provides media commentary on issues related to Latinos, immigration, and U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations at the regional, national, and international levels.

  • Suresh V. Garimella, Associate Vice President for Engagement, Purdue University

    Suresh Garimella is Associate Vice President for Engagement and the Goodson Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering, at Purdue University where he is Director of the National Science Foundation Cooling Technologies Research Center. Dr. Garimella has served as Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State since August 2010, in the International Energy and Commodity Policy office of the Economic Bureau. As a part of this Fellowship, he explored pathways to a clean energy future. Most recently, he was appointed Senior Fellow of the State Department’s Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), a regional partnership announced by President Obama at the April 2009 Summit of the Americas.

  • Mark Gerstle, Vice President, Cummins, Inc.

    Mr. Mark R. Gerstle has been Vice President of Community Relations at Cummins Inc. since 2011. A life-long Indiana resident, Gerstle sits on over nine area Boards, working to improve education through roles with the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, and Columbus Education Coalition. For Gerstle, improving educational systems in Columbus helps “attract people, retain people, and keep the communities healthy.” The Spanish-speaker attended Indiana University for both his B.A. and J.D., bringing his legal expertise to IBM before joining Cummins, Inc. in 1988. Now serving as the VP of Community Relations, Gerstle works with the Cummins Foundation on Indiana-based grant programs. 

  • Jamie Merisotis, President and Chief Executive Officer, Lumina Foundation

    Jamie P. Merisotis is president and chief executive officer of the Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation committed solely to enrolling and graduating more students from college. Before joining Lumina in 2008, Merisotis was founding president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Merisotis’ work has been published extensively in the higher education field. Merisotis serves on the board of numerous institutions around the globe, including the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and Anatolia College in Thessaloniki, Greece. He also serves as president of the Economic Club of Indiana. 

  • Norman G. Wilson, Coordinator, Intercultural Studies Department, Indiana Wesleyan University, Wesleyan Church

    Dr. Norman Wilson is an ordained minister of The Wesleyan Church and serves as associate professor and Coordinator of the Intercultural Studies Department at Indiana Wesleyan University.  He has served as pastor of Free Methodist Churches in Indianapolis, as a Wesleyan missionary in Peru and Puerto Rico, as Director of PACE (Program for Accelerating College Education), Houghton College’s adult degree completion program, and as Director of International Ministries for Global Partners of The Wesleyan Church overseeing ministries in over sixty countries. He has written on missions and intercultural theory and practice, compassionate evangelism, immigration issues, and more. 



  • Tony Burrell – Director & Minister – Chicagoland Immigrant Welcome Network
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg – Mayor, City of South Bend, Indiana
  • Kitty Campbell – Executive Director, Leadership Lafayette
  • Joyce Coffee – Managing Director, ND Global Adaptation Index
  • Clarinda Crawford – Reverend, United Methodist Clergy
  • Albert Phelps – Principal Global Consulting, Buck Consultants
  • Dana Smith – Former President, Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce
  • Angela Smith Jones – Director of Public Policy, Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce
  • Claudia L. Suarez – Assistant Director of Recruitment, Ivy Tech Community College – Lafayette

State Events

To engage a broad community of Midwesterners in a conversation about immigration the “Task Force on Immigration and U.S. Economic Competitiveness: A View from the Midwest” has gone on the road to learn more about the immigrant communities throughout the region. The forums highlighted how immigrants contribute to local economies and the integration challenges local communities are facing, among other issues. 8 forums were held in the late summer and early fall. Local leaders participated. The diverse canvas of immigrant communities and local issues was put on full display.

A View from Indiana


Moderated by Suresh Garimella, Associate Vice President for Engagement, 
Purdue University. 
In collaboration with Greater Lafayette Commerce, Purdue University, and ImmigrationWorks, USA.