Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mexican Immigrants Prove Slow to Assimilate

Mexican Immigrants

Before comprehensive immigration reform died last summer, I wrote on migration issues almost as much as Iraq.

I frequently cite Samuel Huntington's important article, "
The Hispanic Challenge," which argues that massive Hispanic immigration threatens American political culture, identity, and national values.

It's a controversial argument, no doubt, especially among partisans of the open-borders lobby. This group, interestingly, includes the editors at the Wall Street Journal, who advocate "free markets, free peoples, no barriers."
Jason Riley, for example, in a piece last week, argued in favor of substantial Hispanic assimilation to society's norms and language:

The media offers up a steady diet of data about current immigration from Mexico, and much of it consists of "averages" regarding English-language skills, income, home-ownership rates, education and so forth. But while digesting these figures, it's important to keep in mind that Latino immigration is ongoing. These averages are snapshots of a moving stream and therefore of little use in measuring assimilation. To properly gauge assimilation, we need to find out how immigrants in the U.S. are faring over time. Only longitudinal studies that track individuals can provide that information.

Just looking at averages can give you a very distorted view of who's learning English or dropping out of school or climbing out of poverty....

The reality, however, is that the longitudinal studies show real socio-economic progress by Latinos. Progress is slower in some areas, such as the education level of adult immigrants, and faster in others, such as income and homeownership rates. But there is no doubt that both assimilation and upward mobility are occurring over time.
With respect to linguistic assimilation, which is one of the more important measures because it amounts to a job skill that can increase earnings, the historical pattern is as follows: The first generation learns enough English to get by but prefers the mother tongue. The children of immigrants born here grow up in homes where they understand the mother tongue to some extent and may speak it, but they prefer English. When those children become adults, they establish homes where English is the dominant language.

There's every indication that Latinos are following this pattern. According to 2005 Census data, just one-third of Latino immigrants in the country for less than a decade speak English well. But that proportion climbs to 75% for those here 30 years or more. There may be more bilingualism today among their children, but there's no evidence that Spanish is the dominant language in the second generation. The 2000 Census found that 91% of the children of immigrants, and 97% of the grandchildren, spoke English well.

Actually, it might be more complicated than this. As U.S. News relates in its article, "Mexican Immigrants Prove Slow to Fit In":

In the heart of California's iconic Orange County—home to Disneyland and the bourgeois teens of MTV's Laguna Beach—is troubled Santa Ana. The county seat of 353,000, where nearly 6out of every 10 adults over age 25 lack a high school diploma, suffers from crippling poverty and an explosion in crime. In 2004, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government placed Santa Ana at the very top of its Urban Hardship Index—officially dubbing it worse off than Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, and Newark, N.J. With 76 percent of its population Hispanic, mostly Mexican immigrants, Santa Ana is the poster child for the troubles of the country's immigration policies and of Mexican immigrants in particular.

Now, a new study lays bare what sociologists and others have long argued: Mexican immigrants are assimilating to life in the United States less successfully than other immigrants. Sponsored by the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank, "Measuring Immigrant Assimilation in the United States" by Jacob Vigdor, a professor of public policy studies and economics at Duke University, introduces a novel assimilation index that uses census and other survey data to measure how similar select immigrant groups are to native-born Americans. Using such factors as intermarriage, English ability, military service, homeownership, citizenship, and earnings, Vigdor assembled a 100-point assimilation index. The closer to 100, the more assimilated an immigrant group. Overall, the report shows immigrants are weaving into the American fabric at a remarkable clip, despite arriving poorer and knowing less English than immigrants of a century ago. And they are gaining speed, with new arrivals assimilating faster than those who came more than 20 years ago. With a score of 53, Canadians are the most assimilated, followed closely by Filipinos, Cubans, and Vietnamese. The main outlier: Mexicans, with a score of 13—followed by Salvadorans.

Why Mexicans are faring so poorly in the United States is complicated, experts say. But the root of the problem is no surprise: Many Mexicans are here illegally, depriving them of rungs on the economic ladder and the opportunity to gain citizenship. "There are certain jobs or certain services you just can't get [as an illegal immigrant]," Vigdor says. "There are plenty of indications here that for those Mexican immigrants who are interested in making a more permanent attachment to the United States, their legal status puts very severe barriers in that path."

Since the 1990s, Mexicans' immigrant story has differed from that of their peers. When comparing Mexicans and Asians, "Asians show up with a lot more money, oftentimes," notes Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California. "They have a higher education to begin with, and many of them are entrepreneurs." Past decades saw influxes of refugees from countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Today's Asian immigrants are some of the best and brightest, which puts them on a faster track to assimilation via economic success.

The Asian experience recalls a general rule of today's immigrants. The farther you have to migrate, the wealthier you probably were in your country of origin. "Poor people can't afford a plane trip across the ocean, but poor people can walk across the border," Myers says. "Poor Africans and poor Chinese can't do it." Because of their proximity to the United States, poor Mexicans can make the trip. Indeed, their poverty impels them to risk the border crossing. But when they arrive, they arrive significantly disadvantaged, and they often qualify for jobs that offer little opportunity for social advancement. Other factors may also contribute but are more difficult to quantify: The leading contender is that the sheer number of Latinos in the United States has created a subculture that slows assimilation.

Indeed, in a unique multigenerational study spanning four decades, Generations of Exclusion, sociologists Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz found that many immigrants and their children had made slow progress assimilating for cultural and economic reasons. A large community means a large dating pool: Only 17 percent of third-generation Mexicans studied had married non-Hispanics. The authors found adult Mexican-Americans in the third and fourth generations lived in more segregated neighborhoods than they did as youths, largely because of the many new immigrant arrivals. Educational levels, meanwhile, lagged behind the national average. However, English ability was nearly universal, even among first-generation immigrants, which should ease the concerns of some lawmakers who want to make English the natural language. Significantly, though, 36 percent of fourth-generation Mexican-Americans studied could still speak Spanish.

Perhaps most telling: Of the approximately 1,500 surveyed in two distinct immigrant communities—Los Angeles and San Antonio—most identified as "Mexican" or "Mexican-American" even into the fourth generation. It's that kind of cultural signifier that has so many white Americans concerned that this is a group not interested in becoming American.

I love the introduction to this piece, because Santa Ana's right next door to my home town, and the city's population is 76 percent Hispanic with 53 percent foreign born - the city's literally a classic microcosm of the phenomenal sub-national trends in demographic diversity giving way to ethnic homegeneous-hegemonic dominance.

But just talking about this stuff routinely gets folks branded as racist.

Lou Dobbs is not my favorite. He's a political opportunist and grandstander on immigration, and his "war on the middle class" segments are unhinged on issues of economic mobility and trade. But some of his reports on immigration are indeniably accurate in detailing the problems of local commuities around the country in tackling out of control immigration.

And because of reports like these, the nihilist left-wing of the open borders operation is up in arms about the media's "fanning" of anti-immigration racial tensions:

This criticism's not compelling, considering the radical left's open-borders movement, with its recent May Day protesters in Los Angeles, for example, hoisting Che Guevara banners and Mexican flags in a sea of green and red.

(See also, Heather MacDonald, "The Immigrant Gang Plague").

What happened to the American flag? Must not be too popular for the La Raza set.

Here's a hometown rebuttal:

This idea of America being a multicultural community has served only to dilute our sovereignty and our national identity. As Americans, we have our own culture, our own society, our own language, and our own lifestyle. This culture has been developed over centuries of struggles, trials, and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom. We speak ENGLISH, not Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become a part of our society, learn the language!

See also, Business Week, "Hispanic Nation: Hispanics are an immigrant group like no other. Their huge numbers are challenging old assumptions about assimilation. Is America ready?"

Photo Credit: U.S. News