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The State's Changing Face

August 20, 2006
By MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writer

Connecticut has become a new "destination state" for immigrants, particularly from Latin America, who are increasingly bypassing traditional "gateway" states, according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The new statistics show the face of Connecticut is changing, with Latin American immigrants outnumbering immigrants from Europe. The number of foreign-born people in the state increased 14.4 percent from 2000 to 2005, fueled by a 29 percent increase in Latin American immigrants and a 26 percent increase in immigrants from Asia.

Nationally, Latino immigrants are moving to regions where they were once rarely seen, such as the Southeast, Midwest and New England.

"We're seeing a huge dispersal of the foreign-born population," said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "It touches every part of the country."

The trend is one of the factors behind the heated debate over immigration that emerged earlier this year and promises to be a key issue in the midterm elections in November. Immigration has become a state and local issue for officials who once thought it was restricted to the gateway states of California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York and New Jersey.

The highest increase recorded in New England was in New Hampshire, which saw its foreign-born population increase 33 percent.

In Connecticut, immigration came to the forefront last year when Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton began seeking ways to cope with an influx of Ecuadorians. The number of Ecuadorians in the state doubled from 2000 to 2005, from 9,020 to 18,690.

The 2005 figures, released last week, are part of the annual American Community Survey, a much shorter version of the national census conducted every 10 years. Orlando Rodriguez, manager of the Connecticut State Data Center at the University of Connecticut, cautioned that the 2005 survey had some limits.

The 2000 census, for example, includes group housing such as prisons, homeless shelters and college dormitories, while the yearly survey samples only households. The 2005 survey also has a wide margin of error because of its small sample, Rodriguez said.

The Census Bureau does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants.

But some observers say the data confirm what they have observed. Werner Oyanadel, a legislative analyst for the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said he has seen Connecticut's Latino population become increasingly diverse, and the commission is trying to respond to that.

Earlier this year, the commission began discussing adding immigration issues to its traditional roster of concerns, such as education, housing, jobs and access to health care. Issues such as providing in-state college tuition to the children of illegal immigrants are likely to come before the next session of the state legislature, he said.

"The increases mean a different kind of policy agenda," Oyanadel said.

Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments, said immigration is important to the state, which otherwise would have to contend with a decreasing population.

"In Connecticut, it's about the only growth we're getting," he said. "We're dead in the water without it."

Wray said there are costs to immigration, from health care to education, but they are difficult to determine. But in a state with low unemployment, immigrants fill a variety of jobs, from high-end technical jobs to menial labor.

"When you start showing a population decrease, things get pretty hairy," Wray said. "Things don't get done."

Although a large number of immigrants from Europe remain in the state, their numbers decreased 4.2 percent. The largest immigrant group from Europe is Polish, at 27,842, followed by Italian, at 21,999.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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