California Anchors Nation’s Immigration

californiaWith 27.2 percent of its population born outside the United States, California is the leading immigrant state in the country.  As more than half state’s population self-identified as Latino or Asian in the 2010 Census, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy, the socioeconomic impact of immigration is undeniable.

In terms of raw numbers, California counts 10.2 million residents as foreign born. Although the number represents the most immigrants throughout the country, it’s interesting to note that “California did not see a rapid growth in its immigration population from 2000 to 2010,” according to the New American Economy, which reports a growth rate for the period of 15.1 percent. Despite the slowdown, more than 2.5 times as many foreign-born residents live in California than live in New York, the state with the country’s second largest immigrant population.

The immigrant pool in the state, which began building in the mid 1800s with the Gold Rush, saw a rapid rise in population as immigrants from China, Germany and Mexico set out to improve their lot. Today, reverberations from the earlier waves of immigration mean fully half the state’s population self identifies as Latino or Asian.

Immigrants make the largest impact on the state’s major cities– Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. The New American Economy report puts the numbers at between one-quarter and one-third of the cities’ economies.

California’s tech-heavy economy is also a factor in the state’s immigration.  Education in science, technology, engineering and math—STEM- is considered a crucial component to the state’s economic future. In 2009, almost two in five students earning advanced STEM degrees in state institutions were temporary residents. In other years, the majority of PhD candidates in state schools—57 percent—were noncitizens.

Interestingly, these desirable STEM graduates have no clear path of legally staying in the country. And although an immigration bill addressing the issue was on the table in 2012, Washington officials were unable to pass any reform.

The New American Economy report also states a study it conducted with the Center for American Progress estimates some 550,000 people in California are affected by the DREAM Act. Over the next 20 years, it claims, these immigrants could ad close to $98 billion to the state’s economy and create more than 384,000 jobs.