There’s been a lot of conversation – and controversy -- over the past several weeks about immigration.
Whether tied to the ongoing surge of Central American migrants at the southern border or recent tweets from our country’s highest officials, it seems our national news cycle has been consumed by talk of immigration and the ways our system of welcoming and processing migrants seeking asylum is in a state of distress.
What’s less discussed is the role that immigrants play in our local communities. For example, while Prince William County is obviously diverse, some may not realize that nearly one in four county residents – or about 23.4% -- are foreign born. That percent is even higher in the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, where the percent of foreign born residents is 26.2% and 35.6%, respectively.
That means that well more than 100,000 of our local neighbors are immigrants, a statistic that even we at the Prince William Times didn’t know before we began digging into the numbers.
Thanks to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we’ve recently learned even more about the impact local immigrants have on both our county and our state.
The nonprofit’s June 2019 report titled, “Virginia Immigrants in the Economy: Pillars of Prosperous Communities” is a fascinating compilation of facts about immigrants living in Virginia. Among other things, the report notes that:
- Virginia is home to more than 1 million immigrants, who make up 12.5% of the state’s overall population. That’s slightly below the states’ national average of 13.7%.
- Virginia’s immigrants come from many places but most commonly El Salvador, which is the country of origin for 11% of the state’s newcomers. India is next on the list with 9%, followed by Korea with 6% and Mexico with 5%. About 43% of Virginia’s immigrant population was born in Asia, the largest group from any continent.
- More than two-thirds of the state’s immigrants live in Northern Virginia, making up around 27% of the region’s population.
- More than half of Virginia’s immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens, meaning they have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, applied for naturalization and passed a citizenship test in addition to meeting other requirements. Also, most of Virginia’s immigrants have been here a long time, more than half for at least 16 years.
- Almost one in four Virginia children have at least one foreign-born parent.
- In Virginia, immigrants are more likely to participate in the workforce and are more likely to have earned a bachelor’s degree than our native residents.
- Around 5% of Virginia’s immigrant workers are self-employed owners of businesses, compared to nearly 3% of U.S.-born workers. Virginia immigrants are also major contributors to “Main Street” establishments, such as grocery stores, restaurants and clothing stores. Across the state, three-quarters of grocery stores and two-thirds of gas stations, dry-cleaning and laundry services were owned by immigrants in 2013.
The report, which is worth reading, also lists changes state policymakers should consider to give Virginia’s immigrants a firmer footing.
They include dismantling the obstacles that keep even lawfully present immigrants from applying for driver’s licenses and qualifying for Medicaid, as well as better support for programs that help immigrant adults learn English.
Despite these ongoing challenges, Prince William and Virginia are clearly more interesting and prosperous places because more than 1 million immigrants choose to call our state home.
We’re glad they’re here.