Census survey provides details on state’s immigrant population
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Four in 10 Californians speak a language other than English in the home – the highest such percentage nationwide, according to a new demographic survey.
New Mexico was second at 36 percent, followed by Texas at 32 percent. Nationwide, 18 percent of residents spoke a language other than English at home.
The Census 2000 Supplementary Survey released publicly Monday also found that 8.6 million Californians – or 26 percent of the state’s 33 million residents – were born in a foreign country. More than 5 million people have not gained citizenship.
The figures are fueling new calls for public policy changes to ease the integration of immigrants.
”America can always be interpreted as a Balkanized society and in the end, Balkanization in itself is not bad,” said H. Eric Schockman, a member of the state Little Hoover Commission, which is studying immigrant integration and intends to make recommendations to the Legislature and governor.
”It’s what we do in the civic world and the governance world to bring people into citizenship, with all the rights and responsibilities thereof, that we should be concerned about,” he said.
One challenge will be achieving integration without ”losing the hyphen,” or cultural identity, of Mexican-Americans, Chinese-Americans and other immigrants, Schockman said.
The Census 2000 Supplementary Survey gathered information from 32 California counties and 700,000 households nationwide. The data was gathered separately from the Census 2000 headcount and provides estimates of demographic trends expected to be reflected in additional Census 2000 data due out next year.
The survey has minor discrepancies with previously released Census numbers because it did not include data on residents living in prisons, dormitories and other group quarters.
The survey shows that immigrants like Iliana Salmeron make up a sizable portion of the state population. For the past four months, she has been going to school six days a week to improve her language and job skills.
The 21-year-old native of Mexico City attends free classes at the downtown Evans Community Adult School – the largest adult school in the Los Angeles Unified School District – where she is learning English as a second language.
”It (pays) more if you speak two languages,” said Salmeron, who lives with her mother and two younger sisters in Pasadena.
Salmeron finished high school and one year of college in Mexico. She said she enjoys living in California but wants to return to Mexico someday, perhaps to become a politician.
Hans Johnson, a researcher with the Public Policy Institute of California, analyzed the data and found that language skills in the state varied by age, with children 5-17 speaking English and another language more proficiently than adults between 18 and 64.
Although more than 40 percent of children have a language other than English as their native tongue, Johnson found that the vast majority reported speaking English either ”very well” or ”well.”
Among Spanish speakers, 86 percent had strong English language skills and about 90 percent of youths who speak an Asian or Pacific Island language also spoke English ”very well” or ”well.”
For adults 18 to 64, about 40 percent had a language other than English as their primary tongue, but their English skills lagged behind children. Among Spanish speakers, 37 percent reported that they can’t speak English or don’t speak it very well.
Among adults who speak Asian and Pacific Island languages, about 22 percent reported speaking English poorly or not at all.
”Certainly there’s a need for English language courses for adults in California,” Johnson said.
The language data is linked to the survey’s findings that more than one out four residents in the state was born in a foreign country, experts said.
”The high rate of languages, other than English, spken at home is directly attributable to the fact that you have a very large, young population of children from parents who were born abroad,” said Andres Jimenez, director of the California Policy Research Center. ”Children who are born here regularly see family from Mexico and speak to their parents in Spanish. You also see it in the Chinese and Southeast Asian communities.”
Lawmakers and others who develop public policy need to adapt education, health care, housing and transportation strategies to better serve immigrants, Jimenez said.
Concern over immigrants and their future is a fixture at Evans Adult Community School, where more than 20,000 students from 80 different countries enrolled in English as a second language, academic classes and citizenship courses last year.
Spence McIntyre, principal at the perennially overcrowded school, praised his students.
”They are highly motivated and work hard,” he said. ”They work all night on the graveyard shift and come in at 5:45 in the morning. They are raising children…and are going to school at the same time. … We have waiting lists for people.”
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