The Immigration Crossfire
Editorial by Thomas Tseng, Principal and Co-Founder, New American Dimensions
An annual report from the U.S. superintendent’s office of immigration notes rising immigration levels into this country and warns about “an enormous influx of foreigners unacquainted with our languages and customs… the majority of these unfortunates came here without money and without skill as workmen.” These new immigrants, the missive warns, may very well form a “new undesirable class.”
This report I’m referring to, however, was written in 1892. It documented a period historians now designate the “third great wave of immigration”– a time when Jews, Italians, Irish and Germans flooded the northeastern U.S. seaboard starting life anew. As we now know, these newcomers eventually transformed the structures, institutions and fabric of mainstream society.
While the contributions of those early European immigrants stand unquestioned today, the same cannot be said about our recent immigration debates. Although we now live in a period of one of the most extensive demographic transformations ever experienced in this country – perhaps even more sweeping than that of the early 20th century – the merits (or demerits) of immigration continue to be argued as ardently and intensely as ever.
One columnist for Vdare, a stridently anti-immigration organization, recently wrote that continuing immigration would dramatically erode the quality of life in the U.S.
“America,” claims the author, “would become like that restaurant that Yogi Berra said got so popular that nobody went there anymore.” It appears the message nativists have been yammering on about for over two decades now has remained unchanged.
The problem is, some people are taking such cataclysmic warnings dead serious. Early this year, civilian activists in Arizona, known as the Minutemen Project, took matters into their own hands by voluntarily patrolling the porous 40-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border themselves to prevent illegal migrants from crossing over. Used to draw media attention to the problem of illegal immigration, the ill-conceived endeavor quickly fizzled out not long after its inception.
In contrast to the doom-and-gloom mania of such groups, there is real evidence about what immigration represents to the U.S. economy and it portrays a far rosier picture. Recent figures put out by the Census Bureau clearly demonstrate that the longer immigrants remain in the U.S., the better they do economically. Unemployment levels drop dramatically while income earnings increase considerably the longer immigrants have been in the country.
Nevertheless, the true gauge of immigration’s genuine impact is generational – it rests among the children and offspring of immigrants themselves. A study by the Rand Corporation recently showed that educational progress among three generations of Mexican Americans – from the first generation immigrant all the way to their grandchildren – gradually increases with each succeeding generation group. This progress is the same or greater than those achievements made by those previous European immigrants who came to the U.S. during the early 20th century.
These findings are supported by the research conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center. According to Jeffrey Passel, an immigration demographer at the institute, “We have a tendency to romanticize the experience of past immigrants. Yes, there was progress. But the real progress came with their children and grandchildren.”
As the distinguished historian Oscar Handlin once noted: “the history of America is the history of immigrants’ children.” His statement has proven not only prescient, but also relevant and wise, for our day and age. It serves as a good reminder for immigration detractors to bear in mind.
Moderator’s Comment: How has the most recent wave of immigration affected American society and its economy? Specifically, what has this meant for retailers
and consumer goods manufacturers in the U.S.? Should the retail industry and related businesses lobby Congress and the executive branch to enact more “lenient” immigration laws?
Thomas Tseng – Moderator