Illegal Immigration in California and Projections for the Future

California is a haven

California is a haven for illegal immigrants. Of the approximately 12 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States, about 2.6 million of them live in California. That’s around 21 percent of the nation’s illegal immigrants concentrated in one state. Much of the reason for that is simple logistics. Illegal immigrants can easily and quickly disappear into the large, ethnically diverse metropolises of southern California. San Diego and Tijuana are essentially the same city, only a fence divides them. Hundreds of illegal immigrants stealthily slip into California’s long coastline by boat, undetected by the cover of night. Illegal immigrants compose 7 percent of California’s population and 9 percent of its employees.

Illegal immigrant populations in the state of California have been in decline since the economic crash of 2008. In the past three years, analysts at the California Public Policy Institute estimate that around 300,000 undocumented aliens have left the state. Much of this is due to the economic woes of the state and, surprisingly, improving conditions in Mexico. America’s southern neighbor has been supporting a more solid middle class and education in Mexico is improving. However, escalating drug cartel violence in northern Mexico still drives a large number of refugees north. But much of this migration seems to now focus on other states with stronger economies and more jobs, states such as Texas and Florida.

While it may seem logical to conclude that a shrinking illegal immigrant population is generally viewed as a good thing, the truth is that some are worried that it may shrink too much. California farmers, like their counterparts in many other regions of the U.S., are concerned that they will soon be facing a severe labor shortage. It is widely known that American’s simply will not take farm jobs, leaving farmers to rely largely on illegal migrant workers. The passage of a tough illegal immigration enforcement law in Georgia has already had disastrous consequences for that state’s agriculture industry. The law requires all employers to check the immigration status and employment eligibility of any new worker they hire using a federal database called E-Verify. In Georgia, the new E-Verify mandate has resulted in a loss of 40 percent of the state’s agriculture workers and a subsequent $300 million loss of crops that are left to rot in the fields.

In the Central Coast region of California, farmers estimate that there are about 15,000 farm jobs that need to be filled every year and that about 10,000 of them are filled by undocumented workers. Speculation as to an exodus of illegal farm workers leads these business owners to believe that if they wish to adjust by hiring American workers, they will have to significantly raise wages, simultaneously cutting into profits and raising food costs around the nation. There are no easy answers in the illegal immigration debate. It seems, at times, that America needs her illegal immigrants but cannot reconcile that need with the inherent fact that they are in the country illegally. Such is the content of this heated and controversial debate that has created stark divisions among policy makers and Americans alike.