They’re not just like the Irish–or the Italians or the Poles, for that matter. The large influx of Hispanic immigrants after 1965 represents a unique assimilation challenge for the United States. Many optimistic observers have assumed–incorrectly, it turns out–that Hispanic immigrants will follow the same economic trajectory European immigrants did in the early part of the last century. Many of those Europeans came to America with no money and few skills, but their status steadily improved. Their children outperformed them, and their children’s children were often indistinguishable from the “founding stock.” The speed of economic assimilation varied somewhat by ethnic group, but three generations were typically enough to turn “ethnics” into plain old Americans.

This would be the preferred outcome for the tens of millions of Hispanic Americans, who are significantly poorer and less educated on average than native whites. When immigration skeptics question the wisdom of importing so many unskilled people into our nation at one time, the most common response cites the remarkable progress of Europeans a century ago. “People used to say the Irish or the Poles would always be poor, but look at them today!” For Hispanics, we are led to believe, the same thing will happen.

But that claim isn’t true. Though about three-quarters of Hispanics living in the U.S. today are either immigrants or the children of immigrants, a significant number have roots here going back many generations. We have several ways to measure their intergenerational progress, and the results leave little room for optimism about their prospects for assimilation.

Before detailing some of those analyses, we should recognize the importance of this question. If we were to discover that, say, Slovenian immigrants did not assimilate over several generations, there would be little cause for alarm. There are simply too few Slovenian Americans to change our society in a meaningful way. Hispanics, on the other hand, have risen from 4 percent to 15 percent of the American population since 1970. The Census Bureau projects that, if there is no change in immigration policy, 30 percent of the nation will be Hispanic by 2050. To avoid developing a large economic underclass, we need to confront the question of whether they will assimilate

The children of Hispanic immigrants (the second generation) actually stay in school much longer and earn a considerably higher wage than their parents. In fact, the Hispanic rate of assimilation from the first to the second generation is only slightly lower than the assimilation rate of more successful groups of immigrants. Most second-generation Hispanics make up nearly as much ground as the children of European immigrants would if they grew up in the same disadvantaged situation.

But the good news ends there, and two problems arise. First, the second generation still does not come close to matching the socioeconomic status of white natives. Even if Hispanics were to keep climbing the ladder each generation, their assimilation would be markedly slower than that of other groups. But even that view is overly optimistic, because of the second, larger problem with Hispanic assimilation: It appears to stall after the second generation. We see little further ladder-climbing from the grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants. They do not rise out of the lower class….

Taken as a whole, the research on Hispanic assimilation presents two possible conclusions. Either Hispanic assimilation will be exceedingly slow–taking at least four or five generations, and probably several more–or it will not happen. In either case, Hispanic immigration will have a serious long-term consequence: The grandchildren of today’s Hispanic immigrants will lag far behind the grandchildren of today’s white natives…

Two major changes to our immigration policy are needed to remedy the assimilation problem. First, we should drastically reduce illegal immigration. In the early part of this decade, the illegal-immigrant population saw a net increase of about 515,000 people per year, two-thirds of whom were from Mexico and Central America. The recession appears to have reduced illegal border crossings significantly, but the problem will surely return when our economy improves.

The second change concerns our legal immigration system. While it is important that spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens be allowed to immigrate, our present policy extends well beyond the nuclear family. U.S. citizens can sponsor their parents; their adult children, who may bring their own spouses and children with them; and their adult brothers and sisters, who may also bring their own spouses and children with them. These new green-card holders can then acquire citizenship and bring in their own extended families, perpetuating the cycle. This is “chain migration,” and it causes the number of unskilled immigrants in the U.S. to increase swiftly.

Much more HERE

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