Immigration, Then and Now


Terrific and timely op-ed from Jeb Bush and Robert Putnam debunking the myth that there's something uniquely threatening to American culture from Hispanic immigrants.

On language:

Proponents and opponents of immigration agree on one thing: Learning English is crucial to success and assimilation…

Most recent immigrants recognize that they need to learn English, and about 90 percent of the second generation speak English, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Research by sociologists Claude Fischer and Michael Hout published in 2008 suggests that English acquisition among immigrants today is faster than in previous waves.

On geographic assimilation:

Half a century ago, sociologist Stanley Lieberson showed that most immigrants lived in segregated enclaves, "Little Italy" or "Chinatown," for several generations. This segregation reflected discrimination by natives and the natural desire of "strangers in a strange land" to live among familiar faces with familiar customs….

That many of today's immigrants live in ethnic enclaves is thus entirely normal and reflects no ominous aim to separate themselves from the wider American community.

On intermarriage:

Immigrant intermarriage, then and now, also demonstrates steady progress over generations. In the 1960s, more than half a century after Italian immigration peaked, about 40 percent of second-generation Italians married non-Italians. This pattern characterizes today's immigrants: 39 percent of U.S.-born Latinos marry non-Latinos, according to the Pew Research Center. Intermarriage among second-generation Asian Americans is even more common. Today's immigrants are, on average, assimilating socially even more rapidly than earlier waves.

I'm not sure about all of their policy recommendations, but they're dead on here. We've seen the same criticisms with each new wave of immigrants: They're not assimilating. They don't speak the language. They're just here for a handout. They're bringing disease. We're getting the dregs of the rest of the world.

I guess it would be subjective to say that each wave of immigrants has made America stronger, though that's certainly my opinion. But when it comes to the retread fears about assimilation the critics have been wrong every time.