Do Demographic Changes Influence Anti-Illegal Immigration Measures?
This article raises an interesting question. How much of the anti-immigration measures and sentiment around the country is being fueled by demographic changes in local communities?
I had not thought about that at all.
Stan Lim / The Press-EnterpriseAngelica Ruvalcava, 38, with her son, Angel Hernandez, 17, came to the U.S. illegally and gained residency under the 1986 amnesty. She is a 30-year resident of Perris. Angel thinks of his mother when he hears people make sweeping negative generalizations about undocumented immigrants. “They don’t really get to meet the person,” he says.
Few regions of the country have undergone as much demographic change in recent years as the Inland area. The region had the nation’s biggest increase in Latino population between 2000 and 2008 and the third-highest percentage growth in Asian residents, according to a study released in May by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
It is impossible to count the number of illegal immigrants in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, but the transformation of the Inland area from a mostly white region a few decades ago to one of the most heavily Latino large metropolitan areas in the country today can create discord, said Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at Brookings and an expert on immigration.
“Anywhere you have fast growth, that can cause a lot of conflict,” Singer said. “In fast-growing places where there are changing demographics — in age, race, ethnicity and immigration all rolled up in one — that can cause a whole range of tensions as these cities and institutions are trying to grapple with change.”
Of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, the Inland area has the second-highest disparity between the racial and ethnic background of young and old people, the Brookings study found. Two-thirds of seniors are white, but 73 percent of children are nonwhite. Only Phoenix had a bigger gap.
The Inland area has always had a significant Hispanic population, dating to when California was part of Spain and then Mexico.
Texas-born Abel Moreno, 73, arrived in Hemet in 1958 when it was a small agricultural town surrounded by fields of tomatoes, peaches, watermelons and other crops. Moreno recalled a stretch of State Street where many of the farmworkers — a mix of immigrants and U.S.-born Latinos — lived in shacks or tents.
As Hemet grew, it increasingly became a haven for white retirees. In 1990, Hemet was less than 15 percent Hispanic, U.S. Census data show. Rapid growth transformed the city, bringing in young Hispanic families.
The number of Latinos in Hemet quintupled in the 1990s and early 2000s, to 35 percent of the city’s population, according to 2006-08 census estimates. More than 1 in 6 Hemet residents is an immigrant, the vast majority from Latin America.
Several miles to the west, in Perris, Latinos have filled many of the new homes built on former farmland. Perris was 70 percent Latino in the 2006-08 census estimate, up from 36 percent in 1990. Almost a third of residents were born abroad, according to the census estimates.
Drivers in downtown Perris cruise past Nayarit Restaurant, named after the Mexican state many residents come from, La Playita Panadería, Zapatería Jerez and other businesses targeting Latino residents.