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The Golden State went from red to blue thanks to an influx of immigrants, which is a cautionary tale for the national conservative agenda, says GOP pundit Pat Buchanan.
On July 17, 2014, on Fox’s The Sean Hannity Show, Buchanan noted that California Republicans are now outnumbered 2 to 1 in the state Legislature, 2 to 1 one in Congress, and that no Republican holds a statewide office.
"Right now, one third of all the illegal aliens go to California. Take a look at California politically, which Richard Nixon carried five times and Ronald Reagan carried in four landslides," he said. "And when the country looks like California demographically, it’s gonna look like California politically."
We wanted to check Buchanan’s claim that a third of the country’s unauthorized immigrants are Cali-bound.
To the redwood forests
Buchanan did not respond when we asked where he got his numbers, so we can’t know for sure.
There’s really no good data on immediate destinations -- where unauthorized immigrants are going initially -- according to Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center. He said that though immigrants are more mobile than native-born residents, the general trend is that fewer immigrants are going to California first.
There’s also no way to know exactly how many unauthorized immigrants reside in the United States, wrote Kevin Johnson, the dean of public interest law at the University of California-Davis. Most reports and experts agree that the number is somewhere between 11 and 12 million.
So based on the estimates we have, where are unauthorized immigrants living?
In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security reported that 25 percent of unauthorized immigrants live in California. Texas came in second with 16 percent.
The estimates rely on U.S. Census Bureau data, which attempts to measure everyone living in the country, measured against data on legal immigrants from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State. The Department of Homeland Security warns in its report that its state-to-state estimates may be affected by state-to-state migration (i.e. someone lives in California at the time of the Census but moved elsewhere later).
Another report, from Pew, has a slightly lower estimate. In 2013, Pew reported that 21 percent of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants lived in California, a rate that Pew says has held steady since 2010. That’s a sharp decline from 1990, when Pew said that 42 percent of all unauthorized immigrants lived in California. Texas came in second in this report as well, at 14.5 percent.
Both these reports, we should note, measure where unauthorized immigrants are living. Buchanan said they are "going" there after crossing the border.
"Maybe, I’m speculating here, (Buchanan’s number) can refer to the immigrants first going into California and then moving to other states? I haven’t seen any reports that suggest that though. So most likely, he’s speaking out of his butt," said Manuel Pastor, co-director of the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigration Integration.
While California is taking in more unauthorized immigrants than other states, its share has been dropping, experts say. Passel said this is because of the state’s recession in the mid 1990s, which led to immigrants seeking jobs in "new destination areas" such as Texas.
Historically, because immigrants are attracted to the United States for employment opportunities, the Golden State has always been a top choice, especially for unauthorized immigrants seeking niche labor opportunities. "California has a large economy with many jobs, including the agricultural, construction, and service industries, which have attracted undocumented workers," Johnson said.
In addition to geographic proximity, the rise of the service sector and low-wage manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s made Los Angeles a mecca for immigrants, Pastor said. And since most immigration is "chain immigration," immigrants tend to head for California.
"Their families are already there. Their friends are there," Pastor said. "Many undocumented immigrants have been in America longer than 10 years. There’s a tendency to think this is a shallowly rooted population. But these immigrants are deeply immersed in their communities."
Though not specifically part of this fact-check, it’s important to note that Buchanan is mixing apples and oranges when he suggests unauthorized immigrants are directly affecting election outcomes. Unauthorized immigrants cannot vote. Neither can legal immigrants until they are naturalized. And there are almost no reports in California of unlawful voting by noncitizens, according to Johnson.
"California’s racial ethnic makeup has certainly changed. But still, a lot of its legal immigrants aren’t citizens, let alone unauthorized immigrants," said Passel.
The one situation that most directly could affect an election would be if two unauthorized parents have a child in the United States. That child would be a legal U.S. citizen and would be eligible to vote when they turn 18.
On politics, it’s hard to see a direct correlation simply between the number of unauthorized immigrants and election results.
California voted Republican for president from 1968-88 and has voted Democrat from 1992-2012. Of the state’s last six elected governors, three were Republican and three were Democrat. In Texas, which has the second-highest share of unauthorized immigrants, Republicans have won the last nine presidential elections and served as governor for 27 out of the past 35 years.
Buchanan said, "Right now, one third of all illegal aliens are going to California."
While experts say no good account for initial destinations of unauthorized immigrants exists, the most reliable estimates of unauthorized immigrants living in California range between 21 and 25 percent.
That’s a bit lower than what Buchanan said. As a result, we rate his claim Half True.
Interview with Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Research Center, July 22, 2014
Interview with Manuel Pastor, co-director of the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigration Integration, July 21, 2014
Email interview with Kevin Johnson, dean of public interest law at the University of California Davis, July 21-22, 2014
Email interview with Hans Johnson, immigration expert at the Public Policy Institute of California, July 22, 2014
Law Professors Blogs Network, California’s Undocumented Immigrants, March 7, 2013
Department of Homeland Security, Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2012, March 2013
Pew Research Center, Population Decline of Unauthorized Immigrants Stalls, May Have Reversed, Sept. 23, 2013
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