A recent study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) commissioned by the Virginia General Assembly revealed that the foreign-born popula-tion in Virginia increased significantly between 1990 and 2000. The study also pointed out that more than 80 percent of the state’s foreign-born population is here legally. Of the estimated 570,000 residents in 2000, 232,000 had become naturalized citizens, another 234,000 had legal status, and 103,000 were undocumented. More than 40 percent emigrated from Asia, followed by Latin America with 33 percent. European and African emigration trailed far behind.
At the recent Virginia Association of Counties annual conference, which featured a panel on immigration in Virginia, elected officials from agricultural areas of the state pointed out that the vast majority of farm workers are foreign-born. The poultry industry in the Shenandoah Valley, for example, is heavily dependent on immigrant workers. Similarly, the fruit, vegetable, and tobacco agricultural industries depend on foreign-born workers. Another little-known fact, according to the JLARC study, is that 6.5 percent of Virginia’s active armed forces in 2000 were foreign-born.
Not surprisingly, the JLARC study founded that English proficiency of Virginia residents is very high, with only about 11 percent of residents speaking a language other than English. While the primary desire of new non-English speakers is to learn English, waiting lists, working multiple jobs, lack of affordable child care, and transportation are barriers to attending English classes. The JLARC study recommended development of a comprehensive plan for the state to deal with language access issues.
The language barrier also is a significant challenge faced by health care staff throughout the state. In Chesterfield County just south of Richmond, for example, 45 percent of maternity patients in March 2003 were non-English speakers. In Alexandria City, more than half of health department expenses are for services to the foreign-born. However, according to the JLARC study, foreign-born usage of public services across the state is low: in FY 2002 (the latest complete data available to JLARC), Medicaid payments accounted for just 2.1 percent of total payments statewide; food stamp payments were 2.8 percent of the total, and TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) were 1.5 percent of the total.
The JLARC study also reported that local police and ethnic community leaders stated that unreported crime is a significant problem in Virginia’s immigrant communi-ties. The foreign-born represented 10 percent of the state inmate population, and the JLARC study recommended that improvements in the collection of data about the citizen-ship status of inmates in jails could enable more localities to receive federal funds through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. Updated information about the JLARC study may be accessed on-line at http://jlarc.state.va.us.
The 12th Annual Mason District Holiday Town Gathering will be held on Thursday, December 6, at 7:30 p.m., at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale. This event is open to the public and will feature live musical entertainment by the Crossroads Choir, refreshments, door prizes, and an opportunity to mingle with neighbors and friends to kick off the holiday season. There will only be a few speeches, I promise!