Blog Archive

Friday, October 8, 2010

Census shows illegal immigrant numbers down

By James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
The Sun
Posted: 10/05/2010

In California and across the country, illegal immigration has become a bigger issue this year than in any election year in recent memory.

Yet some experts say - and the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau seem to show - that in California and San Bernardino County, illegal immigration is a shrinking problem, not a growing one.

Census Bureau estimates released this week show fewer noncitizens lived in the county and the state in 2009 than in any year since 2003. The bureau does not differentiate between illegal immigrants and other noncitizens.

"I think a lot of people think immigration keeps increasing, but it's been decreasing," said Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center, which offers aid to immigrants. "A lot of it is misinformation."

John Husing, a Redlands-based regional economist who studies the Inland Empire, said the Census Bureau numbers are good evidence that illegal immigration is on the decline and that the emergence of illegal immigration as a campaign issue is "Republican Party and Tea Party propaganda."

He and local immigration advocates say that's a tactic aimed at mobilizing conservative voters. Some advocates argue the outrage over illegal immigration boils down to concerns that Latinos are rapidly on their way to becoming California's ethnic majority.

But activists on the other side say illegal immigration is a growing problem - they say they doubt the accuracy of the Census Bureau numbers, which are estimates from the annual American Community Survey - and that it's become an issue in this election because Californians are seeing the downsides of unchecked immigration.

"Today, there's not a city in the country that doesn't have a population of illegal immigrants and the problems that go with them," said Rick Oltman, a spokesman for the anti-illegal-immigration group Californians for Population Stabilization. "Everybody has a problem."

In San Bernardino County, the number of illegal immigrants shrunk by more than 30,000 from 2006 through 2009, from 264,889 - or 13.3percent of the county's population - to 234,359 - 11.6percent of the population.

Husing said it makes sense that illegal immigrants would have started leaving San Bernardino County after 2006 - the high-water mark, according to Census numbers - because of the Great Recession.

"People who might be here in a good time aren't here now because there's no work," Husing said.

At the same time, illegal immigrants in Southern California were much more likely to be deported in 2009 than they were in 2006.

Federal officials "are really going all out," said Jose Zapata Calderon, a professor of sociology and Chicano studies at Pitzer College in Claremont.

Over the past four years, the number of deportations has nearly doubled, from 13,337 in 2006 to more than 25,285 in 2009, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

But those statistics and the Census Bureau's estimate of noncitizens leave anti-illegal-immigration activists unimpressed. Oltman said Husing's economic argument fails because the shaky U.S. economy is still attractive to workers trying to escape the Mexican economy.

"The whole world economy has taken a hit," he said. "It's still better to live in America with a declining economy than in Mexico."

Raymond Herrera, president and founder of We the People, California's Crusader, a Claremont-based anti-illegal-immigration group, said the Census Bureau numbers can't be accurate.

"The Census Bureau is taking account of noncitizens that are willing to come forth and say, `Here I am,"' he said. "The ones I'm speaking about are in the shadows. (Illegal immigrants) don't come forward and reveal their presence or their status."

Herrera has been following immigration issues for 30 years and, about six years ago, was involved with Minuteman groups that patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border. He said he's glad illegal immigration issues have crept into the mainstream political debate, though he, like Husing, said some politicians are using it solely to boost their campaigns.

"Republicans are jumping on the bandwagon," he said. "John McCain is in trouble running against J.D. Hayworth, so he runs an ad where he's walking along the border and he's supporting the Arizona law. These are political tactics."

Amaya agreed, in a sense. He said the issue itself - not a particular candidate's stance - has been trumped up to help conservatives. Calderon said the issue of illegal immigration lets people voice fears that have more to do with ethnicity than with citizenship.

"The basis here is that the Latino population is growing," he said. "In some areas, like San Bernardino, Latinos will soon constitute a majority. And there's a fear there."

If voters are concerned about those changing demographics, about the changing face of California and San Bernardino County, it's possible they'll be attracted to anti-immigrant and anti-illegal-immigration rhetoric, Calderon said.

"People don't really go on issues - they go on emotions," Amaya said. "They think people are taking over our country. It makes sense as a political move. It's a wedge issue."

Herrera, though, said Amaya and Calderon, not conservatives and anti-illegal-immigration activists, are "playing the race card" and that illegal immigration is a serious issue that must be addressed.

"What the American people are concerned about is our democracy, our way of life and our American culture," he said. "When you allow the laws to be broken, when you don't enforce them, you have a state of anarchy."