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Immigrants are the Future

Mexico Heads the Group of Hispanic Immigrants in the Philadelphia Region  

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Immigrant communities are fundamental for the new development of cities that quickly grow old, such as Philadelphia.

Such was stated by Audrey Singer, demographer at Brookings Institute, which this week presented the report “Recent Immigration to Philadelphia: Regional Change in a Reemerging Port”.

“Philadelphia is a region that is quickly growing old”, she said.  “And in order to be able to support this aging population, new individuals, new families are needed in this social mix”.

Singer indicated that the new individuals are the immigrant communities that are making the metropolitan area of Philadelphia their home.

This metropolitan area is made up of 11 counties from Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Northern Delaware and Maryland.

And it is in this region in which, according to demographics, the reemergence of the immigrant population has been witnessed, especially immigrants of Asian origin.

“Since the 1990s, Philadelphia has experienced a relatively rapid immigrant population growth”, she stated.  “Such growth accelerated as of the year 2000, when areas identified as having the presence of European immigrants became more diverse”

The study shows that Asians make up 39 percent of the immigrant population of the region.

“Such are largely Hindu that have come to a region rich in University and Health Centers and whom, upon graduating, settle down in the city”, Singer stated.

“They tend to work for highly trained individuals”, she added.

Hispanics are the second larges group in this exodus.

According to the study, Latino and Caribbean immigrants constitute 28 percent of all immigrants, with Mexico heading the list, among Hispanics.

In 1970, 82 percent of all immigrants in Philadelphia came from Europe, while Asians and Latinos constituted 6 and 4 percent, respectively.

In all, the report states, there are nearly 500,000 immigrants in the region, equaling 9 percent of the area’s total population. 

The number of Hispanic immigrants is reduced when not considering the Puerto Rican population, which are US citizens.

“Puerto Ricans may mover freely throughout the country, without needing visas”, Singer stated”.  “However, they share characteristics with immigrants such as speaking Spanish, moving from one place to another, education and poverty”.

The study estimates that around 190,000 Puerto Ricans live in the area, among which one third was born on the Island and that the general average income among Puerto Ricans is barely more than $24,000 a year.

Singer said that Hispanic immigrants that come to the region hold different jobs, according to where they settle down.

“When we see where they live, the majority settled in the suburbs or in the outskirts of Philadelphia”, she said.  “But there are areas outside of Philadelphia that have experienced a great increase such as Norristown, Kennett Square… … working in construction, as gardeners or in the service industry.”

Entrepreneurship is another factor that contributes to the prosperity of immigrants.

“We point out that immigrants have the greatest probability of being entrepreneurs than those born in the U.S.”, she said.  “This may be beneficial for immigrants to start off and then grow and prosper”.

However, Singer added that this spirit of entrepreneurship can also be counterproductive.  “Opening these businesses can also be restrictive for immigrants if, for example, they are serving a limited ethnic community”, she stated.

The study acknowledges 9th Street in Southern Philadelphia as a Mexican immigrant Business Center, in which taco stands, stores and other businesses stand in place of abandoned businesses in that which was previously the Italian market.

In responding to why it is important to count on a report such as this at the time that immigration is being discussed as a national problem, Singer said that it was relevant to present the role played by immigrants in the region.

“The first thing we must do as a region is recognize that immigrants are very valuable because they help in many ways: the prevent the decline of the population in some areas, revitalize towns and neighborhoods, and enormously contribute to the workforce”, she continued.

“Singer added that the individuals who have been here the longest must also get used to the idea of the newcomers. 

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“I belive that one of the greatest challenges is that people must change their perception and acknowledge that immigration is taking place in their area”, Singer stated.

Upon facing the growth of immigrant and refugee populations in Philadelphia, it is necessary to attend to them.  This is why the document contains tools and figures that allow this population to be understood.  This “growing accustomed to” or understanding is key, Singer said, because in the event that it does not occur “we will witness an increased tension”.  

The teacher pointed out that such tensión is not generalized.

Singer indicated that in the case of Riverside (NJ), the city government retracted on the orders forbidding leasing and hiring immigrants.

“That’s a good sign that people are recognizing the value of the immigrant population”, she stated.

Additionally, said the researcher, the other current great debate regarding the economy must be taken into account.

“We must consider the economic situation in the near future”, Singer stated.  “We are currently holding a nationwide discussion regarding the economic crisis and that also tends to fall on immigrants”.

The study estimates that in Philadelphia, 75 percent of the workforce growth during the present decade is due to the arrival of immigrants.

This contrasts with the previous decade.  From 1990 to 1999 the workforce growth attributed to immigrants was 36 percent.

Singer acknowledged that there are many challenges that immigrants face when they reach this region.

“They (the immigrants) have to physically, economically and politically adapt.  The report talks about how the region must work together on this matter to receive the immigrants”, Singer said.

She went on to say that cities must develop plans to receive this new population, an effort in which the city of Philadelphia seems to be on the leading edge.

“The mayor (Michael Nutter) has lead this effort.  He is concerned with receiving immigrants and want to make sure that there are appropriate services for them and for non-immigrants to be well off in the city”, Singer concluded.

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