Fresno: Overwhelmed by Immigration, Poverty, Gang Violence

Published on August 19th, 2015

In June, my travels took me to Fresno. Even though I had lived in the San Joaquin Valley for a quarter of a century, Fresno’s urban decay horrified me. I couldn’t fathom how much the city had deteriorated during the eight years since my move.

Fresno, backdropped by the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains
Fresno, with the Sierra Nevada Mountains as backdrop,
coping with social, economic chaos.

Accordingly, I wasn’t surprised when The Century Foundation released its new report titled “Architecture of Segregation.” Subtitled “Civil Unrest, the Concentration of Poverty, and Public Policy,” the analysis – although it doesn’t mention immigration specifically – is a grim reminder of how adding too many foreign-born too quickly has revamped Fresno and other large cities, and not for the better. The study is an excellent, fact-filled resource to argue against more immigration. If Fresno ever expects to recover, the last thing the city needs is more immigration.

Among the Century Foundation’s findings is that the number of people living in high-poverty ghettos, barrios and slums has nearly doubled since 2000, rising from 7.2 million to 13.8 million.

Consequently, the population of high-poverty neighborhoods has soared. Since 2000, the number of persons living in neighborhoods where the poverty rate is 40 percent or more has grown by 91 percent. The percentage of Hispanics living in high poverty from 2009 to 2013 increased to 21.2 percent.

The ten United States metropolitan areas with the highest concentration of Hispanic poverty include Syracuse, Detroit, Rochester, Milwaukee, Fresno, Buffalo and Cleveland. Most have experienced substantial increases in Hispanic concentration of poverty since 2000.

Today’s Fresno is 52 percent Hispanic; 44 percent speak a language other than English at home, and 26 percent of all persons live below the poverty line. A new United Ways of California study found that one-third of Californians live in poverty.

Century Foundation also suggested that extreme poverty leads to civil unrest, a polite term for gang violence. Fresno is already one of the nation’s most gang-infested cities. Local police have been battling gangs for years, with limited success.

Immigration into the United States is at record levels. Census Bureau data shows that legal and illegal immigrants hit 42.1 million at the end of 2015’s first quarter, an increase of 1.7 million over the same period last year. Mexican immigration, 740,000, is the leading factor in the surge.

Despite the Beltway’s enthusiasm for more immigration, increasing the number of people, regardless of where they ultimately settle, further complicates existing social and economic problems. If new immigrants’ destinations are already troubled cities like Fresno, then their presence creates additional and often insurmountable challenges for already struggling residents.

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