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New Americans: A Springboard for California’s Rebound

New America Media, Commentary, Andrea Nill Posted: Mar 05, 2009

Editor’s Note: Some may blame immigrants for California's economic woes. In fact, the state's economy relies on their contributions. Andrea Nill is communications and research associate at the Immigration Policy Center, a division of American Immigration Law Foundation.

Earlier this year, Washington Post reported that analysts across the country have been worried that the economic crisis has fueled an increase in hate groups and racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric. With its large immigrant population and current economic woes, California is in the belly of the beast. Yet, while many restrictionists and anti-immigrant groups are exploiting the recession and using immigrants as scapegoats, an undeniable truth lies beneath their feeble facts: California’s immigrants and their children climb up the socioeconomic ladder over time and most Californians have economically benefited as a result.

California exemplifies not only the enormous political and economic clout of immigrants, but also accounts for innumerable stories of immigrants who experience remarkable upward mobility over time, master English, and own their own homes, according to a new Immigration Policy Center (IPC) report . Immigrant workers and entrepreneurs make up a large part of taxpayers and are vital when it comes to the success of California’s new budget .

Rob Paral, demographer and Principal of Rob Paral & Associates, also points out that “California is a state quite apart from other states, in the sense that the presence of immigration is not an option: it’s a reality. The question is how to leverage it.” Paral, who has done research for IPC on New American electoral patterns, also said “…there’s a dawning legacy in California of the children of immigrants. This new generation is almost all citizens that have had a close, personal experience with immigration. To help leverage their contributions to the California economy is to help improve the status of their parents.”

Latinos and Asians account for more than one-quarter of California’s businesses and buying power. Together, their businesses comprised more than one-quarter of all businesses in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2002 Survey of Business Owners. Immigrants in California comprise more than one-third of the state’s labor force and pay roughly $30 billion in federal taxes, $5.2 billion in state income taxes, and $4.6 billion in sales taxes each year. As for the argument that immigrants “steal” jobs from Americans, the truth is that immigrant workers often serve as complements, rather than direct competitors to U.S. workers. All of these factors put together mean that, over a 14 year period, immigration induced a 4% real wage increase for the average native worker as confirmed by a 2007 study .

“Immigration has a positive effect on the local economies where immigrants live. When immigrants come, they bring economic vitality and help sustain industries. Clearly we’re barking up the wrong tree when we blame immigrant workers for the situation of low-income workers in California,” says Manuel Pastor, co-director of the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at University of Southern California, whose research is summarized in the IPC report.

While anti-immigrant front groups blame the immigrant population for everything from traffic jams to the entire housing market meltdown, what we need now is valid information and strong leadership on economic issues, not scapegoats and lies. These groups have misrepresented the truth so much that a recent poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California found a widespread misconception among Californians that immigration, especially illegal immigration, is the primary source of California’s population growth [rather than births, which are the true driver of growth]. Such misapprehension fuels the assumption that we are in a lifeboat with limited resources , and with too many people, we’ll all sink.

Solving California’s economic problems isn’t as easy as curbing immigration. And ultimately, immigrants are not the problem-they’re actually part of the solution when it comes to getting our country back on its feet. Since 1848, California has been a “gateway” for immigrants who helped define the state’s greatest assets: ground-breaking technology, artistic creativity, agricultural productivity, and a fearless and fruitful entrepreneurial spirit. The state may be facing a $42 billion deficit, but the California dream is anything but dead-immigrants and their families are part of the very engine that’s keeping its future alive.

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