You'd think San Diego County's closeness to the Mexican border would make it a natural place for Latinos to call home, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Diego County continues to have the lowest concentration of Latinos among Southern California counties. That's because, immigration trackers tell San Diego Union-Tribune's Lori Weisberg and Leslie Berestein, Orange and Los Angeles counties are far more hospitable places for Latino households searching for work and strong social networks.
The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California San Diego conducted a recent survey of prospective migrants in the Mexican state of Yucatan, as well as Yucatecans living in Southern California. The study found that three-fourths of the illegal Yucatecan immigrants interviewed had crossed into the U.S. most recently through the San Diego area-but none lived or worked down there. They instead settled in Orange and LA counties.
"Migrants these days go where the non-agricultural jobs are, and where their relatives have taken up residence," said Wayne Cornelius, director of the UCSD center that conducted the study.
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San Diego's closer proximity to the border might also play a role. It's estimated 30,000 to 80,000 residents of Mexican border towns like Tijuana cross daily to work in San Diego County but then return home when their shifts are done. "By comparison, Orange County has a lot of Latinos who work in south Orange County, but they live up in Santa Ana, so it's almost like a border crossing for them," says Kristen Hill Maher, an associate professor of political science at San Diego State University.
Another factor cited by the experts is construction jobs drying up in San Diego County and being replaced by positions requiring highly skilled labor, which forces Latinos to continue moving north--or even out of state.
San Diego County's proportion of Latinos is so much smaller that its white population remains a majority-at 51 percent-unlike OC and all other Southern California counties except for Ventura. This may play a part in another deterrent to Latinos settling in San Diego County, according to Fernando Soriano, a Cal State San Marcos professor and chairman of the Census Bureau's Hispanic Advisory Committee.
"I do think there's more of a sense of potential hostility toward ethnic minorities and, in particular, toward the Hispanic population in San Diego County," Soriano says, "mainly because we're close to the border, and we have this national debate about the undocumented population."