Study examines immigrants' contributions, disparities in California

KTVU
January 23, 2017

The California Immigrant Policy Center's latest report, titled "Resilience In an Age of Inequality: Immigrant Contributions to California," underscores the vital role immigrants play in the state's economy while highlighting disparities in income.

According to the report, immigrants make up one-third of the state's workforce and contribute $715 billion to the state's gross domestic product annually.

However, despite major financial contributions by immigrants, the study found that for all households headed by an immigrant, per capita income is only about $27,900 annually, a quarter less than overall per capita income statewide.

Furthermore, for households headed by an undocumented immigrant per capita income is far less, only about $16,000 annually.

According to the nonprofit, undocumented immigrants face a greater risk of exploitation and abuse in the workplace since many don't report such incidents for fear of being deported.

The report cites the experience of one Bay Area man, who is currently fighting his deportation.

Daniel Maher, who works as a recycling director at the Berkeley-based Ecology Center, was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in June 2015 for deportation in connection with felony kidnapping, robbery and firearms convictions dating back to the 1990s.

Maher was born in the Macau region of China but grew up in the U.S. after immigrating to this country as a child and grew up in San Jose. He then became a permanent resident in 1977.

When he was 20 years old, Maher was arrested and convicted of felonies related to an armed robbery. He served seven years in prison followed by more than a year in ICE custody, he said.

He was released in 2001 after immigration officials were unable to obtain travel documents from the Chinese government for him.

Even though Maher has been released from his 2015 detainment, he said he still has to check in with immigration officials regularly and still fears he could be deported.

"My country of origin doesn't have a treaty to send people back and forth, so I'm currently in limbo," Maher said.

Maher has been with the Ecology Center for 11 years and also mentors at-risk youth.

"I tried to turn my life around, finished high school, took self-help courses to become a model inmate and tried to transfer that to the outside when I was released," Maher said of his time in prison.

Maher is advocating for culturally competent solutions that would allow immigrants who have been in trouble with the law to make amends by giving back to their communities as an alternative to deportation.

"I want to show that the immigrant communities can contribute and those who have been incarcerated can turn their lives around," he said.

In addition to disparities in wealth and social justice, immigrants also face housing-related issues, such as displacement due to gentrification, according to the center's report.

The report uses San Francisco's Mission District as an example of an immigrant community, in particular Latinos, being pushed out of their homes.

"The rate of displacement relates to a super fast gentrification that is happening in the Mission. It's part of a corporate process to take communities out of the Mission to create luxury housing and take over land for corporate enterprise," Kitzia Esteva, an organizer with Causa Justa Just Cause said, referring to the neighborhood as a "cultural hub" for the city's Latino community.

According to the center, 52 percent of immigrant households rent their homes and 60 percent of those immigrant renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities.

The rising housing costs in San Francisco, driven in part by a tech boom, seem to be the main factor behind the decline in the immigrant population. Based on recent findings from the Zillow Group, the median home value in the Mission District is about $1.2 million and the median monthly rent is about $4,900, an increase of 71 percent and 57 percent, respectively, over the last five years.

"Many community members who have been gentrified have no recourse but to move to the streets, which has led to higher rates of the criminalization of homeless people," Esteva said.

The report cites the case of Luis Gongora, a 45-year-old indigenous immigrant from the Yucatan region of Mexico who was fatally shot by two police officers in the Mission District on April 7, as an example of an immigrant being displaced and then subsequently targeted by police for being homeless.

Police said Gongora had a knife and refused to put it down, while some witnesses have disputed the police version of events.

Despite becoming homeless in 2013, Gongora had lived in San Francisco for nearly 14 years.

"More police have been observed carrying out racist attacks and we've seen the rise of many programs, like the gang injunction program... Those are all ways in which our communities are being pushed out and even violently removed to make space for developments," Esteva said.

The report was written in order to reveal the disparities within communities of immigrants and people of color and to identify key factors contributing to those disparities, according to the center.

"Immigrants are a vital part of the California heart and soul and have made profound contributions," said Jon Rodney with the California Immigrant Policy Center. "We are placing the information from this report in the context of a crisis of economic inequality, as immigrants face exploitation as well as deportation," he said.

The report can be found at bit.ly/immreport17.