Fresno County's efforts at integrating new immigrants into the overall population fall short when compared with the rest of the state.
That's the finding of a new report by the University of Southern California's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.
The study measures a variety of indicators including the economic impact of immigrants in the local economy, educational performance, the warmth of welcome by the community at large, and civic engagement.
Fresno County ranked last in the report's overall scorecard, and scored poorly in almost every category. Santa Clara County, the East Bay and San Diego posted the highest rankings.
According to the report's authors, despite the high numbers of immigrant workers in Fresno County, those jobs aren't translating into economic opportunities, and largely fail to lift immigrant residents out of poverty. Many immigrants are also isolated from the rest of the population.
Immigrants make up 22 percent of the county's population, and 80 percent of all immigrants in Fresno County have arrived since 1980. Around 25 percent have arrived in the last decade. Linguistic isolation, or the proportion of immigrant-headed households in which no person over 13 speaks English only, or very well – is high at 34 percent. 42 percent of Fresno County children have at least one immigrant parent, and 26 percent of households are headed by an immigrant.
The study says negative perceptions of Latino immigrants serve to hurt integration efforts.
Rates of naturalization among those who are eligible remain low; suggesting that the region may not see the vital contributions of its immigrant population and so has not built the infrastructure needed to facilitate immigrants’ naturalization. As in other places where the immigrant population is less diverse, the mainstream (and often negative, racialized) images of Latino immigrants slows integration. Fresno both accepts immigrants as necessary to its economic success and stops short of fully welcoming them to the region. The exception here is the Hmong refugee population; Fresno is home to a large number of Hmong residents who have built a strong network of organizations trying to address their needs as they integrate into the area. In Fresno, there may be more hope for an open and inclusive culture than other places in the Central Valley; political leaders have often focused on strategies to reduce inequality and elements of the business community are committed, as well.
Dr. Manuel Pastor, director of the center said in a statement that the study hopes to inspire conversations among local and state leaders on the best ways to improve regional economies and social environments through immigrant integration.