It seems everywhere you turn, immigration reform critics blast the wave of immigrants crossing legally and illegally into the United States.
They insist we need to build more border fences, erect stronger and higher walls, add more immigration agents, increase the use of law enforcement technology.
Well, I have some news for them.
The immigrant population in the United States has started to drop.
Southern California Immigration Population Drop
Southern California is no exception.
According to a recent population study by the University of Southern California, the percentage of foreign-born residents in the state is actually declining for the first time in half a century.
Back in 2000, the early projections were that 30% of California’s population would be foreign-born residents by 2010.
The estimate was too high.
The peak of growth took place around 2008. At that time, the percentage of persons living in Los Angeles born in other countries had risen to 35.2%. The percentages were 21.1% in San Bernardino and 22.3% in Riverside.
Since that time the percentages have decreased.
The new estimates are that by the end of 2010, the percentage of immigrants living in Los Angeles will be 32.2%, in Riverside and San Bernardino 20.5%.
Current Update: Hispanic Immigration Population Drops
A significant percentage of the foreign-born population in California are Hispanics immigrants. They constitute the largest immigrant community in the state.
A more recent study by the Pew Research Center, published in the fall of 2015, illustrates a vast drop in Latino immigration immigrant groups – a trend which supports lowered immigrant totals in states, like California, where they predominantly reside.
The Impact of Slowing Immigration: Foreign-Born Share Falls Among 14 Largest U.S. Hispanic Origin Groups
Gustavo López and Eileen Patten, Pew Research Center, September 2015
The immigrant share among each of the nation’s Hispanic origin groups is in decline, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, which analyzed data of the 14 largest Hispanic origin groups.
The foreign-born share of Salvadorans fell from 76% in 2000 to 59% in 2013 — the largest percentage point decline of any of the six largest Hispanic origin groups.
Similarly, Dominicans, Guatemalans, and Colombians all had decreases of over 13 percentage points in their foreign-born shares over the same period.
Mexicans, the nation’s largest Hispanic origin group, also saw an 8% decline since 2000.
Are Increased Deportations The Reason For The Population Drop?
For many immigration restrictionists, deportations have played the major role.
In their view, since Southern California has a large immigrant population, it is a ripe target for get-tough immigration policies. This includes crime sweeps, jail screenings, and a new federal program which requires electronic verification whether employees are eligible to work.
Tougher enforcement leads, they assert, to more deportations which leads to a lower immigrant population.
Of course, those who oppose immigration conveniently use this outlook to support their perspectives on immigration reform.
In their view, the immigrant population decrease shows immigrants will leave the U.S. if government makes it harder for them to get work and live here legally.
As a result, they conclude, immigration reform should center on law enforcement measures.
Their view is too simplistic.
The Impact Of Economics On Immigrant Families
Having practiced as an Escondido immigration attorney for many years, I see matters differently.
The immigration population drop is mainly due to the state of the economy.
Based on my experience, I know most most immigrants enter the U.S. for two reasons: to find better employment opportunities and to support their families. Whether they are professionals or laborers. Whether they entered with or without inspection.
In many instances, immigrants have already risked their lives, or spent their savings, just to get here in the first place. They know failure is a possibility. Still, the lure of economic success and a better life is too strong to ignore.
For undocumented immigrants, the fear of deportation is always present. Yet, by itself, this fear is not enough to keep immigrants from trying to succeed here.
Week in, week out, I meet many individuals fighting deportation defense cases. They are unwilling to leave without putting up a fight to stay here legally.
Their reason for staying is usually tied to the desire to make a better living than in their home countries.
Hence, in my perspective, the primary reason for the decreasing immigrant numbers is economics.
For some immigrants who are waiting to legalizing their immigration status, remaining here is no longer desirable when they cannot find work. When their primary purposes for being here, to support their families, is not possible, the incentive for staying here is greatly reduced.
With a weak job market, the economic magnet lacks its usual charge. Why take such great risks to come here and to remain here when the opportunities for steady employment are absent?
This decreasing immigrant population totals point to perhaps the real solution for immigration reform in this country.
The need to develop stronger foreign economies and a more cooperative approach to international economic issues.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics