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Illegal Immigration, Focused on Hispanics as Political Issue, Affects Other Immigrant Groups

Illegal immigration continues to be a key issue for voters and candidates one year before the U.S. presidential election. A New York Times poll conducted in Iowa shows 86 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats view immigration as a very or somewhat serious problem. Much of the debate over undocumented migrants has focused on Hispanics, but political analysts say the issue affects other groups as well. Steve Mort reports for VOA from Orlando -- home to one of Florida's largest Asian communities, including immigrants who feel the effects of the political stalemate.

In Florida's Orange County, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates nearly 45,000 residents are of Asian descent, an increase of 13,000 in just six years.

As in other migrant communities, illegal immigration is an important issue for many people here.

Local immigration attorney Agnes Chau explains, "There's 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Out of the 12 million around 9 percent is from Asia".

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates the number to be higher than that. In a 2006 survey, Pew found 13 percent of illegal immigrants came from Asia.

And government statistics show that Asians made up 25 percent of the entire U.S. foreign-born population in 2005.

Agnes Chau says most illegal Asian immigrants she meets in Orlando leave their home countries to find a good education for their children. "They're developing countries, so a lot of times, especially education, they do not have those means or ability to let all of the children pursue the education they want," she said.

Professor Robert Moore, head of Asian studies at Orlando's Rollins College, says undocumented Asians are usually wealthier than those from Latin America. "I think Hispanic immigrants tend to go into working class jobs. These are more likely to find themselves in these kind of small entrepreneurial ventures".

Outside Florida, Moore claims New York's Chinatown is home to tens of thousands of illegal immigrants. He says many have paid smugglers to bring them to the U.S., in some cases as much as $60,000.

"The smugglers have tried to find routes that won't attract the attention of the authorities so that the authorities won't be looking for their cargo of illegal immigrants," said Professor Moore.

In China, Fujian Province is now believed to be the biggest source of migrants to America. The U.S. State Department cites, as reasons, Fujian's relative economic liberalization and export industry.

But Moore suggests rising living standards in China eventually will lead to a decline in the number of people trying to leave.

In the U.S., Congress earlier this year failed to pass legislation to overhaul America's immigration laws. The reform would have given illegal immigrants, including those from Asia, a way to remain in the U.S. legally.