WASHINGTON -- Whites are now in the minority in nearly 1 in 10 US counties.
And that increased diversity, fueled by immigration and higher birth rates among blacks and Hispanics, is straining race relations and sparking a backlash against immigrants in many communities.
As of 2006, non-Hispanic whites made up less than half the population in 303 of the nation's 3,141 counties, according to figures the Census Bureau is releasing today. Non-Hispanic whites were a minority in 262 counties in 2000, up from 183 in 1990.
The Census Bureau's report has population estimates by race and ethnicity for every county in the nation. They are the first such estimates since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, scattering hundreds of thousands of people.
The biggest changes were in Orleans Parish, La., home to New Orleans. The share of non-Hispanic whites in Orleans Parish grew from 27 percent in 2005 to 34 percent in 2006, while the share of blacks dropped from about 68 percent to 59 percent.
Many of the nation's biggest counties have long had large minority populations. But that diversity is now spreading to the suburbs and beyond, causing resentment in some areas.
Many Latinos say they see it in the debate over illegal immigration.
In northern Virginia, Teresita Jacinto said she feels less welcome today than when she arrived 30 years ago, when she was one of few Hispanics in the area.
"Not only are we feeling less welcome, we are feeling threatened," said Jacinto, a teacher in Woodbridge, Va., about 20 miles southwest of Washington.
Woodbridge is part of Prince William County, which recently passed a resolution seeking to deny public services to illegal immigrants. Similar measures have been approved or considered in dozens of communities across the nation. In all, state lawmakers have introduced more than 1,400 measures related to immigration this year, the National Conference of State Legislatures says.
Supporters say local laws are necessary because Congress has failed to crack down on the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. But many Hispanics legally in the country say they feel targeted, too.
"I think across the board all of us feel like we're not welcome," said Jacinto, who was born in the United States.
© 2007 The Associated Press.