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UCSD report touts benefits of immigration to San Diego

Immigrants in San Diego comprise about 25% of the population.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2017, file photo, a flag is waved outside the White House, in Washington. The Trump administration is extending a ban on green cards issued outside the United States until the end of 202 and adding many temporary work visas to the freeze, including those used heavily by technology companies and multinational corporations. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

SAN DIEGO — More than one-third of essential workers in the health and agriculture sectors of the city of San Diego are immigrants providing critical services to residents and businesses, according to a newly published report.

The analysis, released Monday by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego, was developed with the goal of providing insight into local foreign-born populations and their contributions to the area's workforce, economy and overall diversity, according to the La Jolla university and city officials.

"San Diego has immigrants from around the globe (who) define our city and strengthen our diverse communities," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said while announcing the findings Tuesday. "This report reinforces that immigrants are essential to our workforce, our economy and our shared identity."

According to the document, immigrants in San Diego, who comprise about 25 percent of the population -- nearly twice the national average -- are performing essential roles in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, titled "Immigrant Integration in the City of San Diego," uses the most current data available from the U.S. Census American Community Survey and adds to a 2016 New American Economy study that analyzed immigrants countywide, according to its authors.

The city's foreign-born populations represent 115-plus countries and territories, though more come from Latin America than any other region. The average amount of time they have spent in the United States is nearly 23 years.

By 2030, immigrants from Asia, including Middle Eastern nations as defined by the United Nations, are projected to be the largest immigrant group in San Diego, the document reports.

Other highlights from the report include the following findings:

-- Immigrants in San Diego earned a combined $9.91 billion in pre-tax wages and income in 2018, translating to an estimated $2.68 billion in federal taxes and $946.3 million in state and local taxes.

-- The foreign-born populations in the city speak at least 70 languages and dialects, the most prominent being Spanish, English, Filipino/Tagalog, Chinese and Vietnamese. About half are bilingual and speak English well.

-- Over 30 percent of foreign-born people older than 24 in the city have a college degree. The top five most common subjects studied are engineering, business, biology and life sciences, medical and health sciences, and social sciences.

The study was led by Tom Wong, associate professor of political science at UCSD and director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center. Wong serves on the 2020 California Census Complete Count Committee and was an advisor to the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the Obama administration.

"These data make vivid the important role that immigrants play not only in San Diego's present, but also in the future growth of the city," Wong said. "From the essential role immigrants play in the city's workforce -- which includes being on the front lines of fighting the global pandemic -- to the education and skills they bring that add to the city's human and social capital, the data show just how much San Diego's story is also an immigrant story."

Faulconer described the report as a tool that local leaders can use to make the city increasingly welcoming to immigrants and more helpful to them as they work to create successful lives in the United States.

"Using this data, we can focus our efforts to improve access to opportunity and assist refugees and new citizens as they pursue the American dream right here in San Diego," the mayor said. 

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