Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why the immigration issue didn't work (from the Weekly Standard)

This well crafted piece from Tamar Jacoby furthers many of the positions I've posted here in the last months. It comes down to this: nativism and xenophobia, the most extreme political positions against immigration, just do not convince the American middle that immigrants post the grave danger that the xenophobes and nativists believe they do.

The article also suggests that most Americans do not fear the immigrant "other," as many believed, but see these people as real men and women who contribute to our economy and help support our way of life. This may be the unspoken reason why anti-immigrant candidates lost so soundly last week.


PJGoober said...

I read the study below and come to the conclusion that unskilled immigration from latin america needs to cease until we can figure out how to give them better socio-economic outcomes. Note that many a rosy picture can be painted by focusing on first generation immigrants of all races, but here is the outcome for second generation latin americans:

"Study sheds light on how young adult children of immigrants assimilate

Largest, longest study of children of immigrants reveals certain groups are left behind

Irvine, Calif., October 4, 2006

While the vast majority of young adult children of immigrants experience upward economic and social mobility, a new study finds that a significant minority are suffering from lower levels of education, lower incomes, higher birth rates and higher levels of incarceration. Furthermore, it is the U.S.-born children of Mexican, Haitian and West Indian immigrants who experience these problems in the largest proportions.

The study, led by sociologists Rubén G. Rumbaut of UC Irvine and Alejandro Portes of Princeton University, appears online this week in the Migration Information Source. The largest and longest-running study of children of immigrants yet conducted, the study also confirms the critical importance of education.

“The greatest educational disadvantage is found among children of Mexican immigrants and Laotian and Cambodian refugees in our sample – close to 40 percent of whom did not go beyond a high school diploma,” said Rumbaut. “Education is the key to successful upward mobility among children of immigrants, so the discrepancies that emerge in educational achievement among immigrant groups tend to persist in trends for income, employment and incarceration.”

The researchers also point to the influence of human capital (the skills and education of immigrant parents) as well as family structure, racial prejudice and government policies toward certain immigrant groups – particularly the undocumented – that influence this “downward assimilation” process.

The researchers found that children of Laotian and Cambodian Americans as well as Haitian Americans had the lowest median annual household income at just over $25,000. They were followed closely by Mexican American families, which had a median annual household income of about $30,000. On the other end of the spectrum, children of upper-middle-class Cuban exiles in Southern Florida reported a household income of more than $70,000, and Filipino Americans in Southern California had more than $64,000, followed by Chinese immigrants.

Furthermore, the study found that the most educationally and economically disadvantaged children of immigrants were most likely to have children of their own at a young age, compounding their difficulties at pursuing higher education. When surveyed at the average age of 24, none of the Chinese Americans had children, while in contrast 25 percent of Haitians, West Indians, Laotians and Cambodians did, as did 41 percent of Mexican American young adults.

Differences in arrest and incarceration rates are also noteworthy, particularly among second-generation, U.S.-born, males. While only 10 percent of second-generation immigrant males in the survey had been incarcerated, that figure jumped to 20 percent among West Indian and Mexican American youths.

“Unfortunately, these trends perpetuate the racial and ethnic stereotypes that contributed to their situation in the first place,” Rumbaut said. “On the positive side, we see that children of immigrant families with little money and low human capital can move forward positively in American society. But there is clearly a minority segment among the native-born children of some immigrant groups that is getting caught in a cycle of downward mobility, and we need to understand the trends that drive this process.”

There are more than 30 million U.S.-born children of immigrants. Rumbaut is continuing to explore the major events influencing the social outcomes of the immigrant second generation, focusing on early childbirth for women and incarceration among men.

About the Study: The surveys were conducted over more than 10 years with random samples representing 77 different nationalities originally drawn in 1991 in San Diego, Calif., and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., of more than 5,000 respondents who were then in junior high school, The most recent surveys were conducted from 2001 to 2004 when the respondents were between the ages of 23 and 27. The surveys are part of the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study, which was designed to examine the in-depth interaction between immigrant parents and their children and the evolution of the young from adolescence into early adulthood. Results from the CILS surveys provide the most compelling current evidence to date of how the second generation adapts – from education and income to unemployment, family formation and incarceration. The study was funded with support from the Russell Sage Foundation. More:"

Deb said...

I have tremendous respect for Portes and his work on immigration, and I don't disagree that we have to do more for immigrants in general (not just children) to ensure their future succeess. However, how does one stop immigration so we can figure out how to give immigrants better socioeconomic outcomes?

Fortifying the border does not do it now, nor will it ever. This is something that need serious discussion, and there will be no simple answers. The reality is that we cannot stop it, we have to manage it effectively.

Thank you for sharing the link to Portes' work. I welcome your comments and hope you'll post again soon.

PJGoober said...

Resources are finite and so are tax payers appetites for paying taxes, thus twice the poor people, generally means half the funds per person to mitigate thier poverty. Also, did you get to go to a elementary, middle, and high schools where an overwhelming amount of people spoke english very well? Think it helped you be a better writer, speaker, etc? By allowing non-stop latin immigration, we deny that oppurtunity to a large amount of hispanics in areas with concentrated spanish speakers. Numbers do matter.

see this quote from

"Magdaleno's existence contrasts sharply with that of her younger siblings, who followed her to Los Angeles but then left. They have settled in Lexington, Ky., had no more than two children each and built better lives than they had known before. Four bought houses. Their children speak English fluently…”

”Her sister Alejandra was the first to leave. In Los Angeles, she and her husband were barely able to make ends meet. As in Mexico, ‘there was little work and it's poorly paid,’ she said."

”Eight years ago, she and her family moved to Kentucky, where a friend said there was more work and were fewer Mexican immigrants bidding down the wages for unskilled jobs."

"Today, the Magdalenos in Lexington earn more than they did in Los Angeles, in a city where the cost of living is lower [only 65% of LA]. Kentucky is now their promised land, and they talk about California the way they used to talk about Mexico…

"'What we weren't able to do in many years in California,' Alejandra said, 'we've done quickly here. We're in a state where there's nothing but Americans. The police control the streets. It's clean, no gangs. California now resembles Mexico—everyone thinks like in Mexico. California's broken.'"

I believe we can't totally stop illegal immigration, but we can effect the numbers somewhat.

Here is a thought experiment: Imagine if the US made an announcement to the world that the US is now no longer trying to halt people crossing the southern border, but if they do enter america they are still illegal. Do you think we would have more or less illegal aliens in the country then if that didn't happen?

If you answer "more", then you admit that people can be somewhat deterred, and in fact are being deterred. Apprehensions along the border did slow down somewhat, as Bush announced before the elections, probably due to the national gaurd (it was like 6% reduction or something). 6 % isn't much, but we have just gotten started. We haven't yet even tried a long wall, but where we have tried like San Diego it has worked. Also, remember that before the hazelton ordinance went into effect, many illegals left the area. They were obviously deterred. And also, you know we haven't tried large scale, big employer sanctions.
We've just started to try, and we have had *some* results.

I'd also like to question your imputing motives of "xenophobia" and "nativism" to illegal immigration opponents. I honestly hope you still don't think that after reading the UC Irvine study. Wanting to live in a country where a high percentage of people are educated, middle-class, and never been incarcerated, and wanting to help those Mexicans who have fallen astray of those virtues before we let more in to compete with them is not xenophobia and nativism, but common sense.

PJGoober said...

Those quotes were from:
6 + 4 = 1 Tenuous Existence,0,931508.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Deb said...

You've forgotten that there are two things we can do to decrease undocumented immigration, but have not tried: 1) a fairly liberal temporary work visa program (where immigrants pay the government what they would pay smugglers to have an opportunity to look for work in the U.S.) and 2) extremely harsh punishments for Americans who hire people who are undocumented. These two will work best if we have a tamper-proof i.d. card, but that is a completely different discussion.

And I do not believe that people are being deterred at the border; at best they are being delayed. Unlike most people who enter this discussion, I've worked with undocumented immigrants in the field (Mexico and the U.S.) for over a decade. Has life been made more difficult by border enforcement for the hundreds of immigrants I've talked to? You betcha. What does it mean for the average undocumented immigrant?--that they have to get creative and be more persistent if they want to get across. If you take a look at the data at the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University:, you'll see that border enforcement doesn't prohibit the average undocumented person--they just keep trying and eventually they get through (or in some cases, sadly, they die). Our border enforcement is a fool's errand.

The only reason why we have unchecked undocumented immigration is that too many businesses and citizens benefit from the current system, and too few Americans care whether or not people suffer and die, so long as they can pay someone $100 USD to clean their 4000 square-foot home, or $30 to mow the grass, they're okay with it.

Way back in 1983, Jorge Bustamante wrote an outstanding article for the International Migration Review entitled "The Mexicans are Coming: From Ideology to Labor Relations" (IMR Vol 17: 2 pp 323-341). His argument, which still holds water today, is that U.S. immigration law is actually de facto labor law, which ensures a pliable, vulnerable workforce for U.S. business interests.

I am familiar with Portes' work, and I still believe that most of the anti-immigration rhetoric is fueled by nativist interests. I don't think you can read, say Vernon Robinson's campaign ads, any other way. We in the U.S. have a long troubled history of resenting our newest arrivals; today's controversy is nothing new, it's just a different group of immigrants.

--good to correspond with you.