Immigration will undoubtedly be a major election topic this year, primarily due to a certain wall that a certain person wants to build along a certain border.
But in Central Pennsylvania, the discussion shouldn’t, at least empirically, center on Mexico.
“Pennsylvania is interesting,” said Sundrop Carter, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition. “Our immigrant or foreign-born population is not dominated by Latinos, unlike the national discussion, which has sort of painted all immigrants as Latinos, and vice-versa.”
According to data from the Center for Migration Studies, Asians make up half of the unauthorized immigrant population in the Harrisburg-Carlisle Metro Area, which is pegged at 7,365 people.
This is both by ethnicity and geographic origin — 50 percent of the unauthorized immigrants were from an Asian country, and 50 percent also reported their race as Asian.
Compare this with the fact that only 15.8 percent were Hispanic. Interestingly, a larger number — 32.2 percent of the survey — speak Spanish at home, likely indicating a significant Filipino population.
Behind Spanish, the leading native languages of the area’s unauthorized population are English at 19.6 percent, Chinese at 14.6 percent, and Dravidian — a broad grouping that covers several languages in southern India and Sri Lanka — at 18.0 percent.
“Generally when you’re looking at large populations [of unauthorized immigrants], it’s due to the Hispanic population. But on a more micro scale, that may not be the case,” said Bob Warren, who developed the CMS data tool.
“We do know that there is a very high concentration of Asian communities in the Harrisburg area,” Carter said. “If you broaden that metro area out to York and Adams, it may skew more Hispanic because they dominate the agricultural employment there.”
Given this makeup, the term “unauthorized” is likely the most apropos for the Cumberland-Dauphin region.
In the national debate, the terms “illegal,” or the somewhat more lenient “undocumented,” are most common. But many unauthorized immigrants, especially those not coming from Central America, arrive in the U.S. legally and with documentation.
“It is especially true for Asian and African communities that they are coming to the U.S. with some sort of legal status, either a tourist visa or student visa or for temporary work,” Carter said. “So they come in legally, but they lapse out of legal status. People often come to visit family and think that they’ll be able to get a longer visa or a green card, and can’t, but just stay anyway.”
The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 500,000 foreign citizens overstayed their visas last year, and overstayed visas currently make up about 40 percent of the unauthorized immigrant population nationally.
Unauthorized immigrants in the Harrisburg-Carlisle area, as is the case in many parts of the U.S., tend to be relatively young, male, and unattached. Women make up only 27 percent of the unauthorized population in the region, and 58.8 percent of the population is between the ages of 25 and 44, according to the CMS research.
Unmarried persons make up 58.6 percent of the local unauthorized population. Another 26.9 percent are married to another unauthorized person.
“Unauthorized labor is very migrant. People are coming into the U.S. for a period of time to work and go home, and the population that is willing and able to do that does skew male and younger,” Carter said.
However, income and education levels amongst the unauthorized population compare somewhat favorably to the region at large.
Only 9.7 percent of the unauthorized population is below the poverty line, compared to an overall poverty rate of 9.1 and 13.4 percent in Cumberland and Dauphin generally, according to U.S. Census estimates.
Further, while the majority of the region’s general population has completed high school, but not college, unauthorized immigrants display a gap.
Of the region’s unauthorized population, 31.7 percent have not completed high school or the foreign equivalent, compared to non-completion rates of only 8.5 and 11.3 for Cumberland and Dauphin, respectively.
But 31.8 percent of unauthorized immigrants have a bachelor’s degree or higher, on par with or better than the U.S. Census rates of 32.8 and 28.2 for Cumberland and Dauphin.
“There is always that proverbial taxi driver who was an astrophysicist in his home country,” Carter said.