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Study: California immigrants making their mark

Corridor December 29. 1996
Web posted at: 9:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Jim Hill

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- As California continues to become the new home of immigrants from around the globe, a study by the University of California in Los Angeles sheds light on how the influx is affecting the work force.

It is estimated that one out of every five immigrants to the U.S. settles in California. The UCLA study claims that, among other things, a good portion of new citizens make a healthy living almost immediately, while others are creating a job squeeze among unskilled workers.

Doctor Tao Duong, a Vietnamese immigrant and cardiologist in Orange County, is one of a growing number of new U.S. citizens who have quickly entered professional, middle-class American life.

Tao

"We always stress the importance of education," Tao says. "Especially getting into the fields of medicine, dentistry or engineering."

According to the UCLA study, such professions are common among immigrants from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

"All of these are occupations and activities in which immigrants are over-represented," says Roger Waldinger, a professor at UCLA. "That's never happened in American history before."

The study found no evidence that immigrants are taking jobs from native-born workers. But at the same time, it revealed unskilled laborers from Mexico and Central America are displacing African-Americans in lower-paying jobs.

Some civil rights leaders, like John Mack of the Urban League, blame the trend on greedy employers offering substandard wages to unaware immigrants.

Mack

"One of the unfortunate products of this whole business is that it does cause an exacerbation of the tensions and a rise in hostilities with one group against the other," Mack says.

But there's another side to this. Take, for example, immigrants like Javier Ramierez from El Salvador, who was trained for the medical field. Before landing a job as an assistant, however, he was willing to work low-paying construction jobs.

Ramirez

"Many of the people, when they are born here, they don't want to do this kind of job, or they want higher salaries," Ramierez says.

The study also found immigrants use fellow immigrants as a network to look for jobs. And the survey claims many employers discriminate in favor of immigrants, believing the stereotype that they are hardworking and never complain.

The study also pointed out that because of California's popularity among immigrants, it's becoming a "no majority" state.

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