Heritage study co-author opposed letting in immigrants with low IQs

Robert Rector (center), one of the study's coauthors. (Heritage)

Robert Rector (center), one of the study's co-authors. (Heritage)

The Heritage Foundation made something of a splash with its study suggesting that immigration reform will cost the public trillions. Past work by one of its co-authors helps put that piece in context.

Jason Richwine is relatively new to the think tank world. He received his PhD in public policy from Harvard in 2009, and joined Heritage after a brief stay at the American Enterprise Institute. Richwine's doctoral dissertation is titled "IQ and Immigration Policy"; the contents are well summarized in the dissertation abstract:

The statistical construct known as IQ can reliably estimate general mental ability, or intelligence. The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations. The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market. Selecting high-IQ immigrants would ameliorate these problems in the U.S., while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.

Richwine's dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races. While it's clear he thinks it is partly due to genetics — "the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in IQ" — he argues the most important thing is that the differences in group IQs are persistent, for whatever reason. He writes, "No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against."

Toward the end of the thesis, Richwine writes that though he believes racial differences in IQ to be real and persistent, one need not agree with that to accept his case for basing immigration on IQ. Rather than excluding what he judges to be low-IQ races, we can just test each individual's IQ and exclude those with low scores. "I believe there is a strong case for IQ selection," he writes, "since it is theoretically a win-win for the U.S. and potential immigrants." He does caution against referring to it as IQ-based selection, saying that using the term "skill-based" would "blunt the negative reaction."

That rhetorical strategy is reflected in Heritage's current work on immigration. His and Rector's report recommends greatly reducing "low-skilled" immigration and increasing "high-skilled" immigration. "The legal immigration system should be altered to greatly reduce the number of low-skill immigrants entering the country and increase the number of new entrants with high levels of education and skills that are in demand by U.S. firms," they write.

Richwine also invoked skill considerations in arguing against the "diversity visa" program. "A better mix of selection factors would give more emphasis to skill-based immigration, but the diversity lottery involves no selection at all. It does not make the workforce more skilled, reunite families, or further any humanitarian goals," he writes. On this point, he's in tune with the rest of Heritage, which has consistently supported expanding high-skilled immigration and limiting low-skilled immigration.

Update: Mike Gonzalez, VP for Communications at Heritage, emails: "This is not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings in no way reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation. Nor do the findings affect the conclusions of our study on the cost of amnesty to the U.S. taxpayer."

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