Part Of The Trend—Immigrants Historically Follow Family, Friends To Areas

Cathy Dyson, Free Lance-Star, July 25, 2006

Hispanics Share information about Fredericksburg the same way an old TV commercial described how word spread about its product.

One person tells another, “and so on, and so on, and so on.”

That’s how 19-year-old Santa Lucas came to live in the area.

She followed her seven siblings, who left two other countries before arriving in the United States.

First, the Lucas family fled Guatemala because of civil war, then left Mexico because they couldn’t farm the rocky land.

Lucas hoped things would be better in Fredericksburg, especially for her infant son, who was born in late May.

“I can give him what I didn’t have,” she said, through an interpreter. “Here I can work. Here there are more possibilities.”

A lively word-of-mouth network—along with plenty of jobs and a lower cost of living—are among the reasons the local Hispanic population has more than doubled in six years.

Immigrants “generally go where they know somebody,” said Sue Smith, executive director of LUCHA Ministries, which serves local Hispanics.

Leni Gonzalez, a statewide outreach coordinator for the Department of Motor Vehicles, sees that all the time.

Groups of workers present their documents when they apply for licenses, and “everybody is from the same town,” she said.

It’s happened that way since the first Europeans crossed the ocean, said Rená Cutlip, staff attorney for the Tahirih Justice Center in Falls Church. Settlers came first, then sent for their families once communities were established.

“It’s just a continuation of historical migration,” she said.

Spanish-speakers may be like other immigrants in that regard, but they differ in other ways, says Samuel Huntington, a political scientist at Harvard University.

Mexican immigrants, especially, cross a desert, not an ocean, and are arriving in far greater numbers than previous waves of immigrants, he wrote in 2000.

They come without legal documents and cluster in areas where there are such large groups of Spanish-speakers, they don’t need to learn English or assimilate into society, Huntington added.

“Mexican immigration is a unique, disturbing and looming challenge . . . to our future as a country,” Huntington wrote in a report for the Center for Immigration Studies. At that time, Spanish-speaking immigrants were beginning to find their way to small cities in the Southeast, such as Fredericksburg.

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Since the mid-1990s, states that historically had the fewest number of immigrants have seen the greatest increases, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington.

Virginia was one of them.

It ranked ninth in the nation among states whose foreign-born population boomed between 2000 and 2005, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

There were 719,000 immigrants in Virginia last year—a 30 percent increase from five years ago.

More than a third of Virginia immigrants are here illegally, according to the Pew Center.

They’re among an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the nation. About half of the illegals are from Mexico, the Pew Center reported.

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