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Interactive Map: New Jersey's Rich Patchwork of Foreign-Born Residents

Immigration reform bills could help strengthen role as 'gateway state,' enable undocumented to contribute more to economy

The Census's American Community Survey estimates nearly 1.9 million residents of New Jersey in 2012 were foreign born, though that number is likely higher since counting undocumented immigrants is difficult. The state has the fifth-largest population of people not born in the U.S. Slightly more than half of immigrants living in New Jersey are naturalized citizens. Almost five of every 10 people born outside the U.S. came from Latin America, while nearly a third came from Asia.

Immigration has led to significant diversification in New Jersey. In nine North Jersey communities, non-natives are the majority, the Census data shows. Palisades Park leads, with an estimated two-thirds of the borough’s nearly 20,000 hailing from another country originally, almost seven of 10 from Asia. The populations of West New York, East Newark, Union City, Harrison, Guttenberg, Fairview, Dover, and Fort Lee also are mostly foreign born. Except for Fort Lee, where the immigrants are also predominantly Asian, most of those who have moved into the other communities are from Latin America.

The attraction immigrants have to New Jersey means the state has a stake in seeing that Congress passes meaningful immigration reform, according to a study released yesterday by New Jersey Policy Perspective.

Gordon MacInnes, NJPP president, said that while the Senate immigration reform bill is not perfect “it would enable New Jersey to strengthen its place as a gateway for immigrants and bring hundreds of thousands of undocumented New Jerseyans out of the shadows to participate fully and openly in the economic life of the state.”

The report found that the legislation, of which New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, is a sponsor, would generate $377 million a year to the state’s economy and $81 million a year in state and local taxes, projected to rise to $1.3 billion by 2020. The increased money would result from undocumented immigrants applying for provisional status on the way to citizenship and that should lead to them earning higher wages, being more productive, and paying more taxes.

“That is why the House must not delay immigration reform,” said Menendez, the son of immigrants.

Erika Nava, an NJPP policy analyst and author of the report, said the bill would “expand the job market to those who were previously marginalized in mostly low-wage service-oriented work and create jobs by allowing more people to participate in the state’s economy.”

The legislation would allow a “significant portion” of the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the country to gain legal immigration status and create a pathway to citizenship for many. It also includes stricter border security provisions and modernizes the visa and family immigration process.

New Jersey has roughly 550,000 undocumented immigrants who mostly work in low-wage jobs, according to the report. Some 40 percent of New Jerseyans are either immigrants or children of immigrants and 30 percent of all workers were not born in the United States.

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