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In Los Angeles, 1 in 10 residents is an illegal immigrant, study says

A new study looks at California's illegal immigrant population in detail, providing insights on how immigration reform proposals in Washington could affect the community nationwide.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / May 8, 2013

Marchers in Los Angeles call for immigration reform during the International Workers Day and Immigration Reform March on May Day last week.

David McNew/Reuters

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Los Angeles

A report released Tuesday suggests that one quarter of the illegal immigrant workforce in the United States lives in California, and it offers a detailed look at who they are and how they live, using the Golden State as a microcosm to explore how current immigration reform efforts in Washington could impact America.

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The study by the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration estimates that about 7 percent of California residents – or more than 2.6 million people – are in the country illegally. In Los Angeles County – the nation’s most populous – 1 in 10 residents is illegal. Sixty-three percent of those undocumented residents in Los Angeles are Mexican, 22 percent are from Central America and 8 percent are from the Philippines, China, or Korea.

Statewide, immigrants are concentrated in seasonal or low-wage industries such as farm work and retail trade, according to the report. But nearly half have lived in the US for 10 years or more, meaning they are more often than not permanent residents rather than seasonal migrants. Moreover, they generate more than $31 billion in personal income, even though they endure high levels of poverty.

For policymakers in Washington, that suggests that the challenges facing the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants are unlikely to go away if immigration reform efforts fail.

“What sticks out to me about this report is that it shows how many immigrants have been in the country more than 10 years that are not just migrants, and who have children born here who are naturalized citizens,” says Michael Moreland, vice dean of the Villanova Law School in Pennsylvania, who was associate director for domestic policy in the George W. Bush White House. “They are established members of the community so if they are not dealt with, the current reform is just kicking the can down the road again.” [Editor's note: Mr. Moreland's name was incorrect in the original version.]

The authors of the report, titled “What’s at Stake for the State,” strike a similar chord. 

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