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OregonLive: Oregon’s Hispanic population bucks national trend

by The Associated Press

Wednesday September 24, 2008, 9:31 AM SALEM — The number of immigrants entering the United States is down nationally, but that isn’t reflected in the Salem area, the heart of Oregon’s Hispanic community. Salem’s foreign-born population rose 11.9 percent last year but still is lower than it was three years ago, according to numbers released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau. In Marion County, the immigrant population grew by 3.3 percent in 2007 from a year earlier, and increased slightly from 2005. But the number of foreigners putting down roots in Polk County skyrocketed by 79.7 percent in 2007 from 2006, after an earlier significant rise from 2005. The census said the numbers are hard to analyze because figures from 2005 do not include foreigners living in group quarters such as nursing homes, prisons and psychiatric facilities, as do 2006 and 2007 figures. The national downturn usually is explained by a bad economy and a tighter border with Mexico. But locally, many point to the agricultural industry’s pull for farmworkers as the reason for the increase in Marion and Polk counties. “Agriculture has been booming in the Willamette Valley,” said Mike Leachman, a sociologist and policy analyst at the Oregon Center for Public Policy in Silverton. “We’ve seen a very rapid growth in ag exports, particularly from Marion and Polk counties,” he said, with a large share of agricultural workers foreign-born. But some question the Census figures. Jim Ludwick, the president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, a group that advocates for placing a cap on immigrant numbers, said he thinks the true figures are much higher. “That doesn’t reflect 2008 figures,” he said of the latest numbers. “I’ve seen where other estimates say there are as many as 5 million more illegal aliens in the country than what the census estimates there are. That makes sense because if you’re in the country illegally, you’re most likely not going to tell a bureau person that you’re here illegally.” Overwhelmingly, foreign-born people living in Salem and Marion and Polk counties are not citizens but legal status often is unclear because the Census Bureau does not ask. “We simply ask whether they’re a citizen or not,” said Tom Edwards, a Census spokesman. “But not being a U.S. citizen doesn’t mean the person is in the country illegally. They could be here on a work visa, be a student, or be a temporary or permanent resident.”


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