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Los Angeles on the Leading Edge: New MPI Report Assesses Immigrant Integration Needs, Opportunities in a Region that Serves as a National Laboratory

Press Release
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Los Angeles on the Leading Edge: New MPI Report Assesses Immigrant Integration Needs, Opportunities in a Region that Serves as a National Laboratory

WASHINGTON – Given the size of today’s immigration flows, the pressure the globalizing economy is placing on U.S. communities and the aging native-born workforce, the public and private sectors should devote far more attention to the integration of immigrants into U.S. classrooms, workplaces and civic life, says a new report from the Migration Policy Institute.

Though much of the current debate in Washington and around the United States is chiefly focused on illegal immigration, the report, Los Angeles on the Leading Edge: Immigrant Integration Indicators and Their Policy Implications, comprehensively details the need for development and implementation of coordinated integration strategies and policies that will benefit immigrants and the broader U.S. society alike.

“Despite the transformative nature of immigrant demographic trends in recent decades, the integration of immigrants remains an afterthought in policy discussions and could be considered one of the most overlooked issues in American governance,” said one of the report’s authors, MPI Vice President Michael Fix.

As the largest immigrant metropolis in the nation, with more than one-third of its 9.9 million residents comprised of immigrants, Los Angeles County stands at the leading edge of national immigration trends because of demography, geography and history – and thus can serve as a policy laboratory for other U.S. communities.

While the immigrant population grew dramatically from the 1970s through the mid-1990s, the story today is Los Angeles’ transition from city of immigrants to one dominated by their American children, with over half of students in the Los Angeles schools the U.S.-born children of immigrants (known as the second generation.)

“With naturalization rates up, new immigrant flows declining and the emergence of the second generation, Los Angeles is positioned to catalyze smart investments in state and regional integration policy – even in the absence of coherent national action,” said co-author Margie McHugh, who directs MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy with Fix.

The MPI report, by Fix, McHugh, Aaron Matteo Terrazas and Laureen Laglagaron, found that:

  • Nearly half of the Los Angeles County workforce is foreign-born
  • Over 40 percent of all students in Los Angeles schools are English Language Learners – the great majority of them U.S. citizens
  • One-third of Los Angeles adults are English Language Learners

“The skills and energy of immigrants and their children will help our society weather the retirement of the Baby Boom generation and meet the challenges of the changing world economy,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  “Local governments need the President and Congress to be full partners in helping immigrant families maximize their success. The federal government must step up to the plate not just on immigration reform, but also in key immigrant integration areas such as education, health-care access and adult English and workforce skills training.” 

The report finds that increased access to English language and civics instruction as well as greater workplace acceptance of immigrants’ foreign educational and professional credentials would speed and improve their integration into the fabric of the broader society and economy.

“This report makes clear that most institutions could play a more active role to help immigrants and their children,” said Antonia Hernández, president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation, which funded the MPI research.  “The only way we can tap into immigrants’ full potential and improve Los Angeles County’s competitiveness is through social integration, economic mobility, educational opportunity and civic engagement.’’

The report is available online here.

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This report is a product of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, with generous support from the California Community Foundation.

The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. Founded in 2001, MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. It aims to meet the rising demand for pragmatic and thoughtful responses to the challenges and opportunities that large-scale migration, whether voluntary or forced, presents to communities and institutions in an increasingly integrated world.

The California Community Foundation, founded in 1915, is one of the leading philanthropic organizations in Los Angeles County, managing more than $1 billion in assets. Each year, it gives out more than $100 million in grants to invest in the future of our local communities. The foundation partners with individual donors and actively supports nonprofit organizations to address diverse and dynamic needs of our communities. The expertise and commitment of CCF enables individuals, families and organizations to fulfill their charitable goals and dreams. To learn more, visit the foundation’s Web site at www.calfund.org.