National Data | Immigrants Are Avoiding the Golden State—Not!
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The Establishment Media has an insatiable appetite for good news about immigration. Witness this latest spin job:

"California is attracting a smaller share of new immigrants for the first time in 30 years, a dramatic turnaround that could improve the state's economic fortunes and create ripples across the nation." (Haya El Nasser, "New Immigrants Skip Calif.: State's Share of Recent Arrivals to USA Shrinks," USA Today, February 18, 2004)

Oh yeah? The alleged evidence of California's decline as an immigrant destination: "California's Immigrants Turn the Corner," a report released earlier this year by the University of Southern California. The USC researchers claimed that after growing steadily in the Censuses of 1970, 1980, and 1990, the share of U.S. immigrants coming to California "turned sharply downward in 2000."

If true, this would of course bode well for the welfare of state residents—immigrant and native alike.

Unfortunately, the USC researchers have misinterpreted the data. In particular, they overlook the distortions caused by the amnesty granted to illegal aliens under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Since California is home to an inordinate number of illegals, the state's 1990 immigrant count was artificially inflated with newly legalized immigrants—foreign-born who had lived in the state illegally for years. The amnesty-based distortion shows up as a quantum leap in new immigrants in 1990: [See table for further details.]


  • Immigration to California jumped to 682,979 in 1990 from 188,696 in 1988—a 262% increase


  • Nationally, immigration rose to 1,536,483 in 1990 from 643,025 in 1988, a 139% increase


Within a few years the illegals were all made legal, and the amnesty-driven immigration bubble burst - nowhere more dramatically than in California:

  • Immigration to California officially collapsed to 336,663 in 1992, down 50.7% from 1990


  • Nationally, immigration fell to 973,977 in 1992, down 36.6% from 1990


Remember: These numbers do not reflect the actual movement of people across U.S. borders in these years. Instead, the numbers merely reflect a technical change in the legal status of millions of erstwhile illegal aliens. The "historic" decline in the share of new immigrants coming to California between 1990 and 2000 is thus a factoid with no practical significance.

A more meaningful picture of mass immigration's current impact can be seen in the post-amnesty trend of annual arrivals. Look, for example, at the trend for the top five immigrant destination states. From 1995 to 2002:


  • California's share of U.S. immigrant arrivals rose from 23.5% to 27.5%


  • New York State's share fell from 18.1% to 10.9%


  • Florida's share fell from 8.7% to 8.6%


  • Texas' share rose from 7.0% to 8.4%


  • New Jersey' s share fell from 5.6% to 5.5%


Far from shrinking in importance, immigration is responsible for virtually all of California's population growth. A study by demographer Leon Bouvier attributes 57% of California's population growth in the 1990s to direct immigration, and the rest to births to foreign-born women.

California's native-born population actually declined in absolute numbers, the result of low fertility rates and massive net emigration to other states.

Bottom line: California's population growth, and its attendant environmental, social, and fiscal traumas, is entirely driven by immigration.

That reality cannot be changed by either wishful thinking or bad research.

[Number fans click here for tables.]

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.

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