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$1 million will go to naturalize immigrants in Napa County

April 23, 2013|By Lee Romney
  • Farmworkers prune shoots on wine grapes in Napa Valley. The region is heavily dependent on immigrant labor.
Farmworkers prune shoots on wine grapes in Napa Valley. The region is heavily… (Los Angeles Times )

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Napa Valley Community Foundation on Tuesday announced it would invest $1 million over the next three years to help the county's legal immigrants become U.S. citizens.

The initiative comes a year after the release of a comprehensive analysis of Napa County's immigrant community commissioned by the foundation and conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute.

Findings from that 83-page analysis were used as a launching point for a series of discussions with community and business groups across the region. Those prompted the foundation's decision to focus resources on a campaign to naturalize the county's 9,000 or so eligible immigrants.

"Only 30% of Napa County's foreign-born population have become citizens versus 37% in California overall," foundation president Terence Mulligan said in a statement, noting that a scarcity of legitimate immigration services in the county contributes to the gap.

When legal residents become citizens, he added, "good things happen for the community at large."

The lush wine region is heavily dependent on immigrant labor: Last year’s analysis found that immigrants annually account for as much as $1 billion of the region’s gross domestic product. While they make up 23% of the county population, they comprise 33% of the overall workforce -– and 73% of the agricultural workforce, the study said.

The analysis also found that the county’s immigrant population is more upwardly mobile than their statewide peers: 55% of immigrants in the region own their homes, and the poverty rate for Latino immigrants is  11% lower than the statewide average, even though cost of living is high.

The foundation's "One Napa Valley Initiative" will direct funding to a number of nonprofit organizations for outreach, low-cost application services and naturalization interview and exam prep. Services will be available within the next three months, Mulligan said.

Nearly half of the Napa Valley’s school kids are children of immigrants, and Mulligan noted that citizenship is correlated with higher educational attainment for those whose parents naturalize, as well as higher family income, higher proficiency in English and more active engagement in community affairs.

Dave Gaw, chairman of the foundation’s board, said the increased likelihood of national immigration reform "makes it even more important for us to work on creating a naturalization infrastructure in Napa Valley, because there may be thousands of additional people who soon have a lawful pathway to citizenship, including many long-time residents who work in agriculture, hospitality and construction."

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lee.romney@latimes.com

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