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Study: Immigrants face hurdles in welcoming spots

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University of Southern California

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SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – The most welcoming spots in California for immigrants may not have always been the best places for them to thrive economically, according to a report released Wednesday.

Traditionally immigrant-friendly hubs like San Francisco and Los Angeles have struggled in some instances to support immigrants due to high living costs, while suburbs with strong economies – like Orange County and the East Bay – have seen immigrants achieve markers of economic success, according to a new scorecard on immigrant integration published by the University of Southern California.

The report comes as roughly half the state’s children live in households with at least one foreign-born parent. While the economic slowdown and tough border enforcement may have slowed immigration, immigration experts say figuring out how to integrate immigrants into American society is key to these children – and the state’s – future.

“The more they are integrated the more they can contribute,” said Manuel Pastor, director of USC’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration and one of the report’s authors.

The scorecard – based predominantly on Census data – ranks 10 regions of the state on immigrant integration. Key components to the score are measures of economic success like jobs and housing – today and over time – and warmth of welcome and civic engagement.

Places that have done a better job integrating immigrants have also fared better economically – a process that Pastor believes is a two-way street with more vibrant spots attracting immigrants, who in turn bring an entrepreneurial spirit to the local economy.

The report’s top example of immigrant integration is Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara County, while Fresno County – which is home to a sizable number of farmworkers and non-English speakers – scored at the bottom.

As immigrant communities mature, integration carries critical importance, said Randy Capps, senior policy analyst with the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.

That’s especially the case in California, where half the state’s 8.8 million children live with at least one foreign-born parent, according to American Community Survey data.

“If they’re growing up in poor families, if they’re not attending good schools, it is going to potentially create substantial social problems down the road,” Capps said. “How well they are doing – which is really how well their immigrant parents are doing – it is more important in California than it is anywhere else.”

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