SAN DIEGO (CN) – San Diego’s growing immigrant population accounted for a quarter of all contributions to the local economy and paid billions in taxes, according to a study released Friday.
The study, conducted by New American Economy – a nonpartisan research group that supports immigration reform to grow the economy – is part of the Welcoming San Diego Kickoff Summit, a partnership between the city, local chamber of commerce, economic development corporation and other organizations and advocacy groups aimed at better integrating immigrants and refugees into the community.
“Embracing people of goodwill, no matter where they are born, is a San Diego value,” City Attorney Mara Elliott, a daughter of an immigrant, told the crowd of 300 gathered Friday to give their input on forming a strategic plan for integrating immigrants.
San Diego County’s immigrant population contributed $54 billion to the local economy in 2016 and outpaced growth of the total population between 2011 and 2016, expanding by 8.5 percent compared to 5.7 percent in the general population, according to the study. The immigrant population, which stands at nearly 800,000, also paid $2.1 billion in state and local taxes in 2016 and $7.5 billion in federal taxes. They represented nearly 28 percent of all “spending power” in the county – slightly more than their share of the population.
The strategic plan comes just as San Diego is doubling down on its support of foreign-born residents in light of an uptick in anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies at the national level.
San Diego, home to one of the largest refugee populations in the country, has opposed much of the negative rhetoric around immigration that has come out of Washington, D.C., since President Donald Trump was elected. Elliott has filed multiple amicus briefs supporting lawsuits challenging the travel ban, immigration arrests at courthouses and the rollback of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The study also showed how immigrants make up San Diego’s workforce.
Immigrants in San Diego represent more than a fourth of the working-age population and make up 30 percent of the region’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) workforce. They make up the majority – 60 percent – of the region’s agricultural workforce and comprise significant shares of the manufacturing, transportation and construction sectors.
Over half – 52 percent – of immigrants in San Diego were naturalized citizens in 2016, while another 36 percent were eligible for naturalization. The vast majority of San Diego’s refugees – 74 percent – are naturalized citizens.
The region also touts itself as a “binational mega region,” with Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer standing firmly with Tijuana, Mexico Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum in promoting the cross-border economic relationship between the two cities and calling for support of international trade and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA.
The strategic plan on immigrant and refugee integration will go before Faulconer and the city council later this year for final approval.