Author: Jean

Los Angeles Is a Test Case for Immigration Policy in the United States

Los Angeles Is a Test Case for Immigration Policy in the United States

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In the past year, a generation of immigrants coming up from Central America has become the largest and fastest-growing population group in the United States. As many as 4 million of them—and their children—are here illegally. But they also don’t have a homeland. For every one American child born on U.S. soil after September 20, 1996, four are born in Mexico. Many of them now live in Los Angeles, a city where the population is 85 percent Mexican—more than three times the city’s previous high, in 1993.

This is an unprecedented demographic shift for the Southwest, where cities like Los Angeles have always been the centers of immigrant culture. But there, unlike in the Bay Area and other coastal centers, the presence of so many immigrants is a mixed blessing. On one hand, the city is the economic cornerstone of Latin America, but it also is a haven for gangs and drug dealers. Because immigrants tend to have lower crime rates than the native-born population, they pose a challenge to the city’s traditional law-and-order model, which is especially sensitive to problems of crime. Many argue that the influx of immigrants, many of them recent arrivals fleeing brutal conflicts elsewhere, is a necessary component of the country’s demographic transition. But they are also a significant drain on the city’s resources. Over a decade, Los Angeles has lost more than $23 billion in the economy—an astounding sum for a population-diverse city in which many young, high-end professionals move in and out of its sprawled neighborhoods and live in luxury.

This situation is changing, however. In the past two years, as California has begun to move to tighten its immigration laws, new immigration legislation has been introduced in several legislatures, and a coalition of social justice organizations have mounted a campaign to have the Senate vote on a reform bill. If the bill passes, Los Angeles should become a test case for immigration policy in the United States. While this may not be the best solution for the city, it will be a step forward for the

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