The Faces of Immigration in Mercer County

By Anastasia R. Mann

Like many other parts of the nation, Mercer County has experienced a surge of immigration in recent years that poses fundamental challenges in the schools, health care, social services, housing, criminal justice and other fields. The Sandra Starr Foundation shared the sense of many in the region that these challenges have been increasing, but the exact dimensions were unclear. As a result, we asked New Jersey Policy Perspective to produce a definitive report that could clarify the scale and character of immigration in the county and illuminate the issues faced by local and state governments, private institutions and the immigrant communities themselves.

This report confirms the exceptional growth in the local immigrant population. For example, between 2000 and 2006, while the number of immigrants in New Jersey as a whole increased by 14 percent, the number of immigrants in Mercer County grew by 48 percent — far more than the five percent increase in the county’s overall population. The best estimates available suggest that just over one-quarter of the county’s 71,000 immigrants are in the United States illegally, but many of them are parents of children who were born in this country. As a result, the welfare of the children, who are U.S. citizens, depends on adults who have no legal rights, live in constant fear and may be exploited and abused with impunity by employers and others. At the same time, they provide services and labor that have been vital to the county’s prosperity.

We hope this report provides a factual basis for local and state leaders and members of the public to think through the challenges related to immigration. Some of those challenges can only be dealt with through action by Congress. But even with the best possible national legislation, there is much that can and must be done at the local level. Mercer County ought to be a model for such efforts.

– Paul Starr
President, Sandra Starr Foundation

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