- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

RICHMOND (AP) — Virginia should do more for Asian and Hispanic immigrants, who pump about $12 billion annually into the state’s economy but draw few services in return, a General Assembly study says.

“The Hispanic and Asian population segments positively impact Virginia’s economy, and by extension, its tax base,” says the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report, which was released Monday.

The report said immigrants’ primary needs are access to services and information in native languages, opportunities to improve English proficiency, and affordable health care.

The study by the legislature’s investigative agency comes as Virginia is erecting perceived obstacles to immigrants, largely in response to worries about terrorism and security. This includes making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Because public dollars are scarce, advocates for immigrants say, newcomers turn to ethnic organizations for assistance with such needs as mastering English.

“If you don’t speak English, your quality of life is going to be very limited,” said Okpil Kim, former president of the Korean-American Society of Greater Richmond.

The state study, requested by Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, says foreign-born residents make up 8 percent of Virginia’s population, which exceeds 7 million.

Immigrants accounted for 12 percent of the civilian work force and 44 percent of the growth in the state’s labor pool during the past decade. In 2000, the buying power of Asians living in Virginia exceeded $6.6 billion. For Hispanics, it was $5.7 billion.

While foreign-born residents do not draw heavily on all public services — health care is the only exception — governments face escalating costs to make programs accessible to immigrants, the report says.

Because they are more likely to be without health insurance, immigrants often look to local health departments, free clinics and charity care. In Chesterfield County, for example, 45 percent of maternity patients and 24 percent of family-planning patients at public health clinics are non-English speaking.

Alexandria says an increase in foreign-born patients is a major reason the number of cases handled by its general medical clinic has more than doubled since the 1970s.

Mr. Cox said the cash-strapped state may be able to draw additional federal funds to help meet the needs of immigrants.

“Let’s face it, this year is going to be another tough budget,” he said.

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