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Two-thirds of San Gabriel Valley's Asian-Americans are immigrants

Monterey Park is considering a law that could require businesses to have at least one sign in English.
Todd Johnson/KPCC
FILE: A sign lists multiple businesses in Monterey Park, a San Gabriel Valley city that is majority Asian-American.

More than two-thirds of the San Gabriel Valley's burgeoning Asian-American population is made up of immigrants, according to a new report

Nearly 525,000 Asian-Americans call the San Gabriel Valley home, and about 67 percent of them are foreign-born, according to the report released Wednesday by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights organization, using mostly census data.

The over half a million Asian-Americans and 7,000 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders living in the valley outnumber those living in 42 states, the numbers show.

The report also concludes that as many as 58,000 of these immigrants could be living here illegally, based on the portion of unauthorized Asian immigrants estimated in the entire country

"Asian Americans are the most immigrant of any major racial group, be it in the San Gabriel Valley, be it in the state of California, be it nationally," said Dan Ichinose, who directs demographic research for AAAJ. "These data consistently show that immigration policy isn't just something that affects Latinos. It is something that affects Asian-American communities in a really significant way."

Many in this demographic group arrived under the current family-based immigration system, Ichinose said. The system has been under debate in Congress as the Trump administration pushes for limits on legal immigration and changes favoring those with job skills.

Immigration crackdowns like the recent sweeps that have led to arrests and workplace audits have rattled the region's Asian immigrant community, advocates said Wednesday during a panel event in Alhambra, where the report was unveiled.

San Gabriel Valley businesses have been among those visited by immigration officials, seeking employment records to audit. 

“It makes workers more afraid to come forward, it makes them more vulnerable to abuse," said California Labor Commissioner Julie Su on Wednesday. "It really creates a situation where workers are forced to choose between speaking up about labor abuse and risking exposing themselves to ICE, and staying quiet and enduring wage theft." 

Asian-Americans in the San Gabriel Valley are still outnumbered by Latinos, the region's largest ethnic group. But only about a third of the valley's Latino population is foreign-born. 

Asian-Americans are by far the region's fastest-growing group. While the valley's overall population grew just 2 percent between 2000 and 2010, its Asian-American population grew by 22 percent, according to the report.

Still, that demographic increased at a faster rate in communities like Pasadena and Temple City, which saw their Asian-American population rise by 49 and 52 percent, respectively, during the same period. 

Among Asians, Chinese remain the largest group, followed by Filipinos and Vietnamese. But among the fastest-growing Asian and Pacific Islander groups in the valley are Bangladeshis, Fijians and Hmong.

Asian-Americans own more businesses — almost 82,000 — in the San Gabriel Valley than any other ethnic group, including whites. But this doesn't mean that the region's Asian-American and Pacific Islander groups are universally successful.

According to the report, close to 67,000 Asian-Americans and about 1,000 Pacific Islanders in the valley live below the poverty line, and high housing costs are a problem for many. More than 80,000 Asians and Pacific Islanders in the region lack health insurance. And some of the cities with the largest Asian-American populations struggle with industrial pollution and other environmental problems.

The report notes that during the 2016 presidential election, Asian-American voter registration exceeded the margin of victory in several local congressional districts.

However, the report notes: "Asian Americans and NHPI (Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander) remain minorities in most legislative districts in the San Gabriel Valley and benefit from coalition building around immigrant rights issues."

About 172,000 Asian-Americans in the San Gabriel Valley are registered to vote and make up about 20 percent of the region's total voter registration, according to the report.