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Immigrants help Utah, research group says

SALT LAKE CITY — Immigrants — both legal and illegal — are surprisingly important to Utah's economy and future, according to a new compilation of data about them.

The Immigration Policy Center, a Washington-based research group, spent a year looking at academic studies and U.S. Census Bureau data about immigrants in each state, and released fact sheets for each on Wednesday.

"Facts are sadly lacking in the immigration debate," said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the center. She said too many people "seek to manipulate information to project an image of immigrants — both those here legally and illegally — as drains on society who make no positive contributions. The facts demonstrate something entirely different."

Among the findings, the group's Utah fact sheet said, was that "if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Utah, the state would lose $2.3 billion in economic activity, $1 billion in gross state product and approximately 14,219 jobs."

It based that on a 2008 study by the Perryman Group that looked at how much illegal immigrants spend and buy.

The Utah fact sheet added that immigrants (legal and illegal) make up 8.3 percent of the state's population. And they or their children account for 4.1 percent of registered voters in the state. While that may not seem like a big percentage, it is enough to make a big difference in close races.

In looking at all Utah Latinos and Asians (both immigrants and native-born), the Utah fact sheet said they wield $7.5 billion in consumer purchasing power. Businesses they own have annual sales of $1.3 billion and employ more than 12,000 people.

"At a time of economic recession, Utah can ill-afford to alienate such a critical component of its labor force, tax base and business community," the fact sheet said. That comes at a time when state lawmakers are considering many immigration reforms, including copying a tough enforcement law passed by Arizona.

"Rather than scaring immigrants, we need to dig down deep to understand the important and complicated role they play in spurring economic growth and cultural diversity," Giovagnoli said.

The fact sheet is online at Other findings in the Utah fact sheet included:

The foreign-born share of Utah's population rose from 3.4 percent in 1990 to 7.1 percent in 2000 to 8.3 percent in 2008, according to census data. Utah is home to 226,440 immigrants — which is about the population of Weber County.

About a third of all Utah immigrants, or 72,399 people, were naturalized citizens in 2008, meaning they are eligible to vote.

Mexican immigrants in Utah own property valued at $984 million and paid more than $67 million in state and local taxes in 2000, according to a report by the Institute of Public and International Affairs at the University of Utah.

In Utah, about three of every five children (57 percent) in immigrant families were U.S. citizens in 2007, according to the Center for Social and Demographic Analysis at the University of Albany.

In Utah, 75.1 percent of children ages 5 to 17 in families that spoke a language other than English at home also spoke English "very well" in 2008.

The number of immigrants in Utah with a college degree increased by 65 percent between 2000 and 2008, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Latinos are one of the fast growing groups of converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The report said studies show about a third of Mormons worldwide are Latino, and one study estimates they will comprise half of church members by 2020.