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As Trump's immigration policies roll out, California economic concerns grow more urgent

FILE PHOTO: A construction worker on the site of a residential development in Los Angeles' Koreatown, April 2016. Construction is one of several industries in which foreign-born workers are heavily represented.
FILE PHOTO: A construction worker on the site of a residential development in Los Angeles' Koreatown, April 2016. Construction is one of several industries in which foreign-born workers are heavily represented.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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The Trump administration's crackdown on immigrants living in the country illegally is increasing worries about possible economic impacts on California.

Speaking at a forum on immigration in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, state Sen. Kamala Harris said removing unauthorized immigrants from the work force will be clearly felt.

“This is absolutely an issue of our economy as well as anything else," she said. "Talk with our farmers. God has given us rain. Crops are growing. Who is going to tend these fields?” 

Business leaders say it’s not just the agricultural industry that would feel the pain of stepped up deportations but also sectors like construction and hospitality that employ workers who are often undocumented.

Foreign-born residents in Los Angeles County — those here legally and illegally — contributed more than $232 billion dollars to the county’s GDP in 2014, according to a recent report from the Partnership for a New American Economy, a business advocacy group. 

At a Wednesday panel on Latinos and the economy put on by the L.A. County of Economic Development, attendees also expressed concern about the impact of the president’s immigration crackdown.

One of the panelists, Manuel Pastor, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California, said Latino immigrants living in Los Angeles County illegally number around 950,000 and are a major driver of the local economy. An estimated 60 to 65 percent of these immigrants have been in the country for more than 10 years and are deeply connected to their communities, Pastor said.

“Every removal has a much higher likelihood of ripping apart a family, of tearing apart a business, of killing part of the consumer market,” said Pastor, who directs USC’s Center for the Study of Immigration Integration.

Pastor said businesses can help combat Trump’s immigration policies by urging workers who are legal permanent residents to seek citizenship so they can vote and protect their family and community.

“The Draconian enforcement that’s about to be put into place is striking fear into people’s hearts,” Pastor said. “It’s going to touch so many other families and create so much insecurity.”

Businesses owners living in the country illegally could also be subject to deportation.

Olga, who runs a jewelry shop in the San Fernando Valley, doesn’t want her last name used because she lacks legal residency status. She's lived in the United States for 30 years and owns her business and two homes, one of which she lives in. 

She said if she’s forced to return to Mexico, her financial contributions to the economy would go with her.

“I won’t be paying the taxes on my business three times a year, I won’t be paying the taxes on my two homes,” she told KPCC in Spanish.

Advocates for tighter immigration policies say those living here illegally hurt rather than help the economy and take jobs away from U.S.-born workers.

According to a report last year from the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors immigration restrictions, low-skilled, native-born male workers have been replaced in the workforce by immigrant workers.