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Jeb Bush, Robert Putnam mislead about immigration and assimilation

Jeb Bush and Robert Putnam offer "A better welcome for our nation's immigrants" (link). It's part of a push for amnesty mentioned here about a year ago. In the piece, they mislead about assimilation and consistently fail to to be intellectually honest. They start with this:

On our national birthday, and amid an angry debate about immigration, Americans should reflect on the lessons of our shared immigrant past. We must recall that the challenges facing our nation today were felt as far back as the Founders' time. Immigrant assimilation has always been slow and contentious, with progress measured not in years but in decades. Yet there are steps communities and government should take to form a more cohesive, successful union.

Consider what one leader wrote in 1753: "Few of their children in the country learn English. The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages. . . . Unless the stream of their importation could be turned . . . they will soon so outnumber us that we will not preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious." Thus Ben Franklin referred to German Americans, still the largest ethnic group in America. A century later, Midwestern cities such as Cincinnati and St. Louis were mostly German-speaking. So worried were their native-born neighbors that Iowa outlawed speaking German in public and even in private conversation.

Now, see immigration tradition fallacy for what they're engaging in. Drawing lessons from the past has to be done carefully because the situations between then and now are different. For instance, it would be exceedingly difficult for Iowa to outlaw speaking Spanish in public nowadays. Bush and Putnam fail to note that one possible reason why German-speakers are confined to small pockets in the U.S. is because of such laws and because of societal pressures that don't exist anymore or that are much attenuated.

Proponents and opponents of immigration agree on one thing: Learning English is crucial to success and assimilation. Yet learning a language as an adult is hard, so first-generation immigrants often use their native tongue. Historically, English has dominated by the second or third generation in all immigrant groups. 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.

Looking at the second study they mention is left as an exercise, but the first is available in the Pew Hispanic PDF file here. From that PDF:

Fewer immigrants of Mexican origin than of any other major origin group say they speak English very well (16%).
Nearly three-quarters of Mexican immigrants (71%) say they speak English just a little or not at all. That is also the case with 64% of immigrants from the Dominican Republic; 62% from Central America; 57% from Cuba; and 44% from South America. Among Puerto Ricans, 35% report that they speak English just a little or not at all. (Figure 10)
...One reason for the low share of Mexican-born immigrants who speak English very well is that Mexicans are the least likely among the major country-of-origin groups to have graduated from college...
...Most Mexicans (56%), Cubans (60%), Dominicans (52%) and Central Americans (51%) say they speak only Spanish at home. By contrast, 32% of Puerto Ricans and 42% of South Americans speak only Spanish at home.
...On the job, Mexican and Cuban immigrants are the most likely among the major origin groups to speak only Spanish—a third do. Half of Mexicans speak only Spanish or mainly Spanish at work, the largest share of any major group. At the opposite end, most Puerto Ricans (51%) speak only English or mainly English, the sole major origin group to do so.

The above is especially important since Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are the largest group within Hispanics. Bush and Putnam fail to ask whether we'd be doing better if most Hispanic immigrants were from South America; obviously, asking questions like that is not in any way politically correct. But, if they aren't willing to discuss that, how should we trust their opinions?

Residential integration of immigrants is even more gradual. 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. Only with suburbanization, encouraged by government policy in the 1950s and 1960s, did the children and grandchildren of the immigrants of the 1890s and 1900s exit those enclaves. 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.

Obviously, there's a huge difference between small enclaves and the current situation in, say, Los Angeles where ethnic enclaves stretch for mile after mile. That's not "normal" if your point of reference is small ethnic enclaves.

They then discuss intermarriage; if anyone has studies that make the contrary point please leave a comment. Then:

Moreover, the aging of our population places a premium on young, productive workers, many of whom must come from immigration.

The problem is that they're lumping all types of immigration together. Speaking generally, immigrants from some countries or with some backgrounds are going to be more productive than those from other countries or with different backgrounds. Jeb Bush and Robert Putnam aren't intellectually honest enough to point that out.

Then, they offer their suggested fixes:

-- Provide low-cost English classes, in cooperation with local civic and religious groups, where immigrants build personal ties with co-ethnics and native-born Americans. These connections foster assimilation and help newcomers navigate our complex institutions.

-- Invest in public education, including civics education and higher education. During the first half of the 20th century, schools were critical to preparing children of immigrants for success and fostering a shared national identity.

-- Assist communities experiencing rapid increases in immigration, which is traumatic for those arriving here and for receiving communities. Schools and hospitals bear disproportionate costs of immigration, while the economic and fiscal benefits from immigration accrue nationally.

The problem is, again, we aren't living a century ago: times are different. Nowadays, the far-left has more power and many of those "civic and religious groups" will oppose assimilation with a small number of them being radical. Most Hispanic organizations work to oppose immigration enforcement and, in order to obtain more power, are not keen on assimilation. Would Jeb Bush and Robert Putnam put the National Council of La Raza in charge of "foster[ing] assimilation"? Whether they would or not, that's what would happen. The same applies to the schools: there are too many examples of far-left teachers and school boards opposing immigration enforcement and assimilation. As for the economic benefits that "accrue nationally", see the immigration economics posts for what they aren't mentioning.

They end on this naive note:

But we ought not to airbrush our ancestors' difficulties in assimilation, nor fail to match our forebears' efforts to help integrate immigrants. Government, churches, libraries, civic organizations and businesses must cooperate to address this challenge, as they did a century ago.

That's great. However, far-left and racial power groups have different ideas, and they'd be in charge. And, Jeb Bush and Robert Putnam offer no clue as to how they'd do anything other than give those groups even more political power.

ADDED: Regarding assimilation and the schools, recall Arizona's recent attempt to make sure that those teaching English can speak the language. That received light pushback from the Washington Post (link), heavier pushback from the Obama-linked Center for American Progress ("Arizona Expands Its Discrimination: Teachers With Heavy Accents Can’t Teach English, Ethnic Studies Are Banned", thinkprogress.org/2010/04/30/arizona-teachers) and overall what they're trying to do wasn't presented as a no-brainer by most of the establishment. Do Bush and Putnam have a plan to overcome the inevitable pushback their assimilation plans would receive? That would be a good question to ask them at their public appearances.

Recall also that a Zogby poll done in Mexico showed that 58% of Mexicans agreed with this question: "the territory of the United States' Southwest rightfully belongs to Mexico." Other good questions to ask them would be:

1. What specifically do they intend to do about such sentiments?
2. Aren't such sentiments dangerous?
3. Should we allow people to immigrate here if they don't believe that we have a right to parts of our territory?
4. And, what are their contingency plans if things don't work out? What if we allow millions more people to come here and the Bush/Putnam assimilation plans fail?

Sat, 07/03/2010 - 15:59 · Importance: 4