Santa Clara County Tops State in Immigrant Integration
KQED's STEPHANIE MARTIN: From learning a new language to navigating the naturalization process, there's no question that immigrating to the U.S. comes with a host of challenges.
A new report from the University of Southern California finds Santa Clara County is doing a particularly good job of helping foreign-born citizens become financially successful and engaged in society.
At the same time, it shows places like San Francisco and Los Angeles, while welcoming to immigrants, also have more hurdles for newcomers.
Manuel Pastor co-directs USC's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, which conducted the study.
Professor Pastor, before we get into the details, let's talk about why immigrant integration is important to California. One reason you cite is the number of kids here who have one or more immigrant parent. It's nearly half. What does that mean for the future of the state?
MANUEL PASTOR: Well, it means that to get the state on the right track for the future we need to make sure that those kids and their parents do well. And it's the right time to be paying attention to this issue, because in fact, the share of foreign-born in California is on the decline. It's been on the decline for the last couple of years in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. And what that means is that we're faced less with immigration issues and more with: how do we integrate and incorporate the immigrants who are already here?
MARTIN: So for this report, you and your colleagues created an immigration integration scorecard for 10 regions in California. What put Santa Clara County at the top of this list?
PASTOR: When we ranked regions, we ranked them along four different dimensions. One is economic snapshot - how people are doing now. The second was economic trajectory - how people are doing over time. The warmth of welcome - how welcoming, basically, the region and area was. And civic engagement - that is, how much were the immigrants themselves engaged in naturalization, civic life, etc.
Santa Clara County topped the list, and it did partly because of the nature of its immigrants. It's got a lot more higher-skill Asian immigrants who have been making progress over time. But it's important to realize that Santa Clara County also has lots of low-skill Mexican and other Latin-American immigrants. In fact, Santa Clara County has really been ahead of the game with an office of immigrant integration, with a community foundation that's been actively investing in immigrant integration activities including English-learning classes, and also a culture, both on the business side and the labor side that's really celebratory of immigrants.
MARTIN: Now, the East Bay is No. 2 on your scorecard. You note that the demographics are different there --more Filipino and Chinese immigrants, fewer Vietnamese and Indian, about the same proportion of Mexicans. And it's a different economy, too, with less emphasis on tech. How do those factors change how immigrants there have integrated?
PASTOR: The East Bay is really the, sort of, working-class cousin to what's been happening in the Peninsula. But it's a place where there's economic success and a place where there's pretty good trajectory over time. The East Bay also does pretty well in terms of having sufficient English-language classes and a relatively high rate of naturalization
MARTIN: What's the challenge in San Francisco, which you say is among the most welcoming cities for immigrants, and yet you rank it No. 6 on your list?
PASTOR: San Francisco faces the challenge of being a very high-cost area. So, one of the things that happens there is that it's very hard for people to make progress over time, and, in fact, if they make progress over time, they often depart from San Francisco.
MARTIN: Your study recommends that some type of statewide body is needed to address the issues. What are you envisioning?
PASTOR: Well, it could be a number of different things. One could be an actual office of immigrant integration. We used to have that at a statewide level. It could be a task force that brings people together across different agencies. One of the reasons why this is important is because there's a lot of best practices going on in different areas, and often those best practices really aren't shared across the state. So at a minimum, a statewide body of immigrant integration could lift up the best practices. It could also help us think through where are we doing the best job? Where do we have the most gaps promoting immigrant integration?
MARTIN: Manuel Pastor, thank you.
PASTOR: Thank you.
MARTIN: Manuel Pastor co-directs the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California.