The newest generations of immigrants are assimilating into American society as fast and broadly as the previous ones, with their integration increasing over time “across all measurable outcomes,” according to a report published on Monday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.Immigrants’ education levels, the diversity of their jobs, their wages and their mastery of English improved as they lived for more time in the United States, and the gains were even greater for their American-born children, the report concluded. . . .The report is an effort by scholars not engaged in politics to summon the latest research to address many contentious issues in the increasingly heated immigration debate. It is the first major report by the national academies on the integration of immigrants since a similarly sweeping overview in 1997. Its timing is linked to the 50th anniversary in October of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 1965 legislation that abolished restrictive national quotas and opened legal immigration to all countries.
Why is it that so many assume this generation of immigrants is somehow different? It surely is not evidence-based:
Many immigrants — about 85 percent of the foreign-born — speak a language other than English at home. For 62 percent of them, that language is Spanish. But many of those immigrants speak English proficiently outside the home. Many already knew English when they arrived, the report found; about 50 percent of the foreign-born say they speak English “very well” or “well,” while only 10 percent say they do not speak English at all. By the third generation, most immigrant children speak only English, the report found.In a finding the scholars called surprising, the report says foreign-born adults and children are healthier in general than Americans. They are less likely to die from cancer or heart disease, and have fewer chronic illnesses and lower rates of obesity. . . . On crime, the report found that over all, immigrant men 18 to 39 were incarcerated at about one-fourth the rate of American men in that group. “Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence” than similar places without immigrants, the report said.
Education is more mixed. In general, the second generation equals native-born Americans in educational attainment. That does not account for wide disparities between groups. For example, “a significant population of highly skilled and educated foreigners, mainly from Asia, … have come in recent years.” Nearly a quarter of them have college degrees, whereas immigrants “from Mexico and Central America started with ‘exceptionally low levels of education,’ the report said. While their children ‘progress a great deal relative to their parents,’ they do not reach the levels of their American peers.”
I’d suggest the inaccurate perception of non-assimilation is fueled by several factors. First, in the late 19th and early 20th century, there was exceptional diversity among immigrant languages (Polish, Irish-accented English, German, Italian, etc.). As a result, there was no single noticeable block of foreign-language speakers who stood out. Today, Spanish predominates. Second, liberal elites have made it easier not to assimilate than did earlier generations of Americans. We see the signs in Spanish and hear the phone tree recording instructing Spanish speakers to push “2.” We have designated “English as a second language” classes in schools. In an effort to accommodate immigrants, elites have made them all the more likely to stick out, to appear as a group apart. Third, immigration advocates arguably have been too defensive, unwilling to make the strong case for immigration and to share the assimilation success stories rather than merely opposing efforts to limit or expel immigrants. The anti-immigration crowd stirs the pot furiously with bogus statistics; pro-immigrant voices have the better of the argument but need to be just as unabashed as opponents in their public persuasion.
With these facts in mind, it is worthwhile to revisit the immigration proposals from Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Both say they are not pushing to increase the number of legal immigrants, only to move away from a system of extended family unification (e.g. adult children) to one in which educational level and work skills play a much greater role. Shouldn’t those people haranguing us about low levels of education among certain sections of the immigration population support that? You would think so. But they reply with even more far-fetched arguments that there is no shortage of high-skilled workers (e.g. engineers). It’s almost as though they don’t like foreigners no matter what level of talent and education they possess.
At any rate, candidates pushing a pro-growth economic plan should be talking more about the beneficial effects of legal immigration. Perhaps they will become more bold. If not, they will cede the stage to the anti-immigrant scare-mongers.