LOS ANGELES (AP) — Immigrants' share of California's population has declined for the third straight year after a half century of growth, with the economic downturn and increased border enforcement discouraging fresh immigration to the state, according to a University of Southern California study released Wednesday.
California's foreign-born population — including both legal and illegal immigrants — was estimated at 26.6 percent this year, down from a peak of 27.4 percent in 2007, the study's authors determined based on recently published federal data.
The study supplied only percentages, not raw population numbers. But applied to U.S. Census Bureau data, those percentages show the number of foreign-born residents largely holding steady at around 9.9 million, while the state's total population increased from 36.6 million to 37.2 million.
The dip reversed an increase in the proportion of foreign-born residents that began in 1965, when federal reforms lifted some restrictions on immigration, said USC urban planning and demography professor Dowell Myers, one of the study's lead authors.
"The absolute number of foreign-born residents in California is now growing very slowly because of the falling rate of new arrivals, continued out-migration ... and the mortality among aging immigrants," the studies' authors wrote. "The harsh effect of the Great Recession on job opportunities throughout 2010 and possibly later seems likely to cause a continuation of this steep decline."
The decline is being seen throughout the country as well, with the nationwide share of foreign-born residents estimated at 12.5 percent of the population this year, down slightly from its 2007 peak of 12.6 percent.
Applied to census data, that shows a nationwide increase to nearly 39 million foreign-born residents in 2010 from about 38 million in 2007, a 1.8 percent increase.
The country's overall population increased 2.8 percent during that time, from nearly 302 million to 310 million.
Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for tighter controls on immigration, said the data he has reviewed also shows such decreases, in California and nationwide.
But he said he expects the immigration reform legislation now being discussed in Washington will likely contain provisions that boost the size of foreign-born populations.
"The administration is committed to the idea of legalization, so that will make people who were thinking of going home stay," he said.
The USC study, which relies on data from the Census Bureau, National Vital Statistics System and other federal sources, notes that none of the six counties that make up Southern California, a region known for its large immigrant population, were majority California-born in 1980.
By 2008, however, all but Los Angeles and San Diego counties were majority California-born, with those two counties expected to cross the 50 percent mark in 2011.
Myers said the shift may make California voters more willing to approve tax increases for improved public education and other social programs, since they'll perceive those benefits as going to fellow Californians, as opposed to foreign-born immigrants.
Voters may also become more willing to pay for public education out of a belief that native Californians are more likely to remain in the state and contribute to its future economic growth, said Myers, who has written extensively about the economic contributions of immigrant groups.
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said it was not surprising that the downturn would discourage immigration to the state.
But he said the decrease has not been substantial enough for him to notice any changes firsthand.
"We are still very much an immigrant state," he said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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