California Has Most to Gain From Immigration Reform

PHOTO: Emilia Hernandez shouts during a May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.AP Photo/Nick Ut
Emilia Hernandez shouts during a May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.

California is the state with the greatest stake in passing comprehensive immigration reform.

Home to 2.6 million, or one in four, of the nation's undocumented population, the state would see rippling economic and social benefits, according to "What's at Stake for the State," a recent study by the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.

Undocumented immigrants make up 7 percent of California's population, 8 percent of adults and 9 percent of the workforce. They tend to be younger than authorized immigrants (44 years old) or naturalized citizens (50 years old).

1.5 million children in California, or one in six, have an undocumented parent. Most of them (81 percent) are U.S. citizens.

Children in households with an undocumented parent are more likely to be poor – about two in three live in poverty (which the study sets at 150 percent of the federal standard due to the higher standard of living in the state).

Previous research has found that these children tend to have more negative social, economic and health outcomes, the study notes. This can mean parents' lack of awareness about programs, to children being fearful of exposing their parent's status by enrolling in social services.

"Lost in the debate over immigration reform are the children of undocumented parents," director of the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration and co-author of the report Manuel Pastor said in a statement. "Their future is our state's future; when families are stable and able to earn better wages, then their kids can also flourish – in school and in life – securing our state's future."

Allowing immigrants to come out of the shadows would benefit everyone in mixed status families – especially children, the study suggests – but would also create economic benefits to the state's economy.

Wages would improve 14 to 25 percent boosting annual incomes of undocumented Californians by $4.6 billion to $7.9 billion. Because undocumented immigrants are often at or near poverty, they would also be more likely to spend that money, increasing it's multiplying effect.

Currently, an undocumented worker in California earns $20,000 annually, while a U.S.-born worker averages about $50,000.

The study found undocumented immigrants are more settled than was previously understood. Half of undocumented immigrants had been in the country for about a decade and 17 percent are homeowners.