Old is new as California sees more European immigrants


A small fence separates densely populated Tijuana, Mexico, right, from the United States in the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector.  Construction is underway to extend a secondary fence over the top of this hill and eventually to the Pacific Ocean.

A small fence separates densely populated Tijuana, Mexico, right, from the United States in the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector.

The face of immigration in California has become more complex than the political debate would suggest, with Roma, or gypsies, coming to the state in small but significantly increased numbers. The trend hearkens back to the old days of the controversy in the U.S., when Europeans fleeing adverse conditions at home sparked divisions over how many, and how much, to welcome. As Latin American immigration, lawful or not, recedes from its recent peak, current residents have begun to transition into more established roles, leaving openings for more newcomers. 

“This year, almost 1,800 Romanians have been apprehended at the southern U.S. border, up from fewer than 400 in all of last year and just a few dozen in 2008, according to government statistics,” Bloomberg reported. “They are propelled by an anti-immigrant wave sweeping Europe and pushing the Roma across the Atlantic Ocean.”

“The traditionally itinerant group, persecuted for centuries, is facing less-tolerant governments as more than 1 million migrants and refugees from Syria and other countries overwhelm the region. A resurgence of neo-Nazism from Romania to Italy has seen their camps demolished, businesses firebombed, neighborhoods walled off and children beaten.”

Times of transition

Although still vastly outnumbered by migrants and immigrants from Latin America, the number of Europeans seeking refuge in California could swell substantially if the political and cultural outlook in their homelands continues to sour. Syrian immigration, all but an asterisk until the war in that country displaced millions, became a hot-button issue as Californians split on how warily to treat incoming Muslims after the San Bernardino terror attack. “Since October, about 1,060 Syrians have landed in California — largely in San Diego and Sacramento, but also in Los Angeles and Orange County,” noted Southern California Public Radio.

“Even in California with a long history of welcoming immigrants, Gov. Jerry Brown said the state can help maintain America’s traditional role as a place of asylum, but he would work closely with Obama to ensure the Syrians arriving in the state were fully vetted. Brown’s comments came just days after coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris put people on edge and amid the rising rhetorical heat of the presidential campaign.”

Nationwide, shifting patterns of unlawful immigration have echoed developments in California. “Mexico still ranks as the leading source country for unauthorized immigrants, with a population of 5.8 million in the U.S. as of 2014, but it has declined since peaking in 2007,” KPCC observed, citing a new report from the Pew Research Center. “Meanwhile, unauthorized immigration from Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Central America has been rising. India, for example, accounted for about 130,000 unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2009. By 2014, an estimated 500,000 lived here illegally.” In California, the station added, the unauthorized population “has declined slightly, from an estimated 2.5 million in 2009 to a little more than 2.3 million in 2014, according to the report.”

Pushing benefits

In Sacramento, both lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration have worked to extend a growing list of benefits to undocumented residents once restricted to citizens. “California on Wednesday became the first state to require that undocumented immigrants be told of their right to an attorney before being interviewed by federal immigration authorities while in custody,” as BuzzFeed reported. “The Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds Act, parts of which goes into effect in 2017, was sign by Gov. Jerry Brown, who called it a ‘measured approach to due process and transparency principles.'”

Health care has become another targeted area on state Democrats’ agenda. Last year, the Los Angeles Times recalled, Brown “allocated funding to allow 170,000 undocumented kids sign up for Medi-Cal at an annual cost of about $143 million. Earlier this month, he signed a bill making California the first state to ask federal officials to allow immigrants here illegally to buy insurance through its state health exchange, without providing them with subsidies.”

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