University Y's new study shows immigrants have $1.4B impact here

University Y's new study shows immigrants have $1.4B impact here

CHAMPAIGN — Immigrants living in Champaign County contribute $1.4 billion to its economy and $57.2 million to the local tax base, according to a new, first-of-its kind study.

The Gateways for Growth Community Data Report — compiled by the University YMCA's New American Welcome Center and data analysts from the New American Economy advocacy group — pulled together information from the Census Bureau, federal agencies and public economic data to measure the contributions of immigrants throughout the county.

The theme, its authors say, is "interdependence," with immigrants making up 1 in 5 workers in the fields of education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and 1 in 10 employees in manufacturing, hospitality, recreation and health care. The majority have been living here for at least seven years, a third are already U.S. citizens and another quarter are likely eligible for naturalization.

"Far from 'aliens,' immigrants are our neighbors, colleagues and friends, and as this report illustrates, what affects them will impact the entirety of our community — immigrant and U.S.-born," the report said.

Champaign-Urbana was one of 25 communities awarded a grant to develop an immigration integration strategy from New American Economy, a bipartisan group of mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms, and Welcoming America, a nonprofit that supports communities that are welcoming to immigrants.

Representatives of the two agencies will present the data, followed by a panel discussion, at a community meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the I Hotel and Conference Center, hosted by the YMCA. The University of Illinois Research Park, Champaign County Economic Development Corp. and the cities of Champaign and Urbana are partners on the project.

Rich Andre, associate director of New American Economy, said the report is designed to give the community a basis for how to maximize immigrants' contributions.

"In Champaign County, just like in communities across the country, we're seeing changing demographics," he said. "That can be a huge opportunity, but it also represents some challenges. Because immigration can be a controversial issue, and a very emotional one, we see a huge need in putting facts to the issue and making it a numbers- and fact-based conversation."

Just under 24,000 immigrants lived in Champaign County in 2016, or 11.6 percent of the total population, the same percentage as five years ago.

About 43.5 percent were university students, leaving 13,558 as longer-term residents. That non-college student immigrant population increased by 6.3 percent from 2011 to 2016, while the U.S.-born population grew by 3.2 percent.

In Champaign, immigrants made up 14 percent of the population, up from 12.8 percent five years earlier, but their share in Urbana dropped from 19.4 percent to 18.5 percent, even as both cities grew overall.

Immigrants who aren't in college come from more than 76 countries — the vast majority in Asia and North America. But the fastest-growing segment from 2011 to 2016 came from Central Africa, East and Southern Africa, and Australia/Fiji.

The study looked at all immigrants counted by the census — naturalized citizens, green card holders, temporary visa holders such as students, refugees, asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants, among others.

It calculates that a third of the 24,000 immigrants in 2016, or roughly 8,000, were naturalized citizens, including nearly 6,000 who were not college students; almost 4,000 were potentially eligible for naturalization; and about 7,100 were likely undocumented, or 29.6 percent, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.

Debunking myths

Andre said the findings challenge the narrative that immigrants aren't educated enough to contribute to the community, including:

— Education: Among non-college students, immigrants were 50 percent more likely to hold a bachelor's degree or higher than their U.S.-born counterparts. More than 21 percent had a doctoral degree, compared to about 4 percent of their U.S. counterparts.

— Health care: Fewer immigrants received government-subsidized health benefits, with 8.6 percent on Medicaid or Medicare, compared with 26.2 percent of U.S.-born residents. More than 84 percent of immigrants had private health care coverage.

— Marriage: Non-student immigrants were also more likely to be married — 74.1 percent, compared to 53.9 percent for U.S.-born residents not in college.

— Home ownership: Immigrants owned $746.7 million in property, though a smaller percentage (31.2 percent) owned homes compared to U.S.-born residents (48.1 percent).

— Labor force: Immigrants made up 12.3 percent of the labor force and 25.1 percent of STEM workers in 2016. They tended to concentrate in certain jobs: teachers, scientists, software developers, cooks and scientific technicians.

The report estimated that immigrants helped preserve 1,104 manufacturing jobs "that would have otherwise vanished or moved elsewhere."

Andrew Lim, director of quantitative research at New American Economy, said that number is derived in part from a detailed study by a University of Washington professor of how undocumented immigrants affect counties across the United States. It concluded that immigrants fill critical niches in manufacturing industries, from highly skilled engineers and researchers to manual labor, keeping companies competitive and operating costs low and allowing them to stay in the United States rather than move overseas, he said.

A better future

Mauricio Salinas, one immigrant profiled in the report, came to the United States in 1986 at age 19 without legal papers, looking for a better life. He worked in landscaping and food service and attended Parkland College but wasn't able to find better jobs because of his undocumented status. He fell in love and married a U.S. citizen and obtained a green card in 1991.

He graduated with a finance degree from the UI in 2001 and was hired as an assistant branch manager at Bank One. Three years later, he opened his own business, a tax preparation and legal services company called Chicago MOR, which also offers advice and support for new entrepreneurs.

A few years ago, he also opened El Oasis, a Mexican-style ice cream parlor, and now has eight employees in all. He's a board member for the Urbana Business Association and the YMCA's New American Welcome Center.

To date, he has helped at least a dozen clients, including immigrants, open new businesses in Champaign County, and says they're an integral part of the community.

"If somebody is willing to invest money and skills in the community, I think we should all try to help them so the community is better off, with more businesses," Salinas said Tuesday. "They're paying taxes, they're spending money here. They're just being part of the community."

Salinas said most undocumented immigrants simply want a better future.

"They are not trying to harm anybody; they are just trying to find a job and a good future for their families that are left behind," he said. "Instead of trying to push them away, we should make them part of this society."

Immigrant economic contributions in Champaign County

$619 million: Earnings by immigrant households in 2016

$119.1 million: Federal taxes paid by those households

$57.2 million: State and local taxes paid

$442.6 million: Spending power

$1.4 billion: Estimated impact on local economy

Immigrants' share of employment by sector

Education: 21.5%

Manufacturing: 13.3%

Hospitality and recreation: 13.3%

Professional services: 12.3%

Health care: 11.5%

A melting pot

Here's a breakdown of where non-college student immigrants (those not born a U.S. citizen and not currently enrolled in a college or university) in Champaign County hail from around the globe:

East Asia (China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan): 29.4 percent

Europe and former Soviet Union/republics: 15.7 percent

North America: 14.4 percent

South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Nepal): 12.9 percent

Southeast Asia (Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, etc.): 11.7 percent

Other regions: 15.9 percent