Mexicans, Central Americans slower to assimilate in U.S.
Immigrants overall do rather well at assimilating into the U.S., but there are major differences — particularly for poor Mexican and Central American immigrants, whose families lag behind the kind of integration the U.S. has prided itself on for decades, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a report Monday.
Immigrants are healthier than the nativeborn, have longer life-expectancies, and have lower crime rates, the academics concluded. And more than a quarter of immigrants have a college education, giving them a head start, and their children “do exceptionally well” in integrating.
But Mexicans and Central Americans average less than 10 years of schooling, and while their children end up better-off than the parents, they still remain behind the native-born, suggesting a persistent problem with assimilation.
Black immigrants’ children also have problems integrating, the report said, citing lower work employment and a “troubling” rise in poverty levels compared to their parents.
Most immigrants are also learning English at about the same rate as previous waves — but that’s not true for Spanish-speaking migrants, who “appear to be acquiring English and losing Spanish more slowly than other immigrant groups,” the academics said. And 1 in 11 students in primary and secondary schooling is getting remedial English help.
And even though the U.S. grants birthright citizenship — a rarity among major economies — immigrants here lag behind other countries in earning citizenship. The academics said just 50 percent of immigrants who’ve been in the U.S. 10 years or more have become citizens, and even excluding illegal immigrants the rate is still “well below” Australia, Canada and major European countries.
The academics were stumped as to the reasons.
“Moderate levels of naturalization in the United States appear to stem not from immigrants’ lack of interest or even primarily from the bureaucratic process of applying for citizenship but from somewhere in the process by which individuals translate their motivation to naturalize into action,” the researchers said. “Further research is needed to clearly identify the barriers to naturalization.”
The 442-page report was funded in part by government grants, and was edited by Mary C. Waters and Marisa Gerstein Pineau.
It comes at a time when immigration is a hot political topic, and has become enmeshed with the 2016 presidential campaign.
Republican candidates have called for a get-tough approach to illegal immigration and some have proposed limiting legal immigration as well, arguing it is having an adverse effect on native-born workers.
Democrats, meanwhile, have proposed more lenient policies including halting deportations and legalizing most illegal immigrants.
President Obama oversaw a major spike in deportations through 2012, but has since cut the number nearly in half, and has carved most rank-and-file illegal immigrants — those that have been in the U.S. for a couple of years or more and have kept relatively free of tangles with the law — out from any danger of deportation.
But the legacy of those record deportations remains, and the Urban Institute and Migration Policy Institute, in two new reports Monday, said deportations are taking a toll on U.S.-citizen children whose parents are detained and eventually kicked out of the country.
The two think tanks said illegal immigrant parents have about 5.3 million children living with them in the U.S., and 85 percent of those are citizens, meaning they benefited from the birthright citizenship policy.
And that very policy serves as an enticement for illegal immigration, the think tanks said, finding that parents who are deported usually leave their children here, and try to sneak back into the U.S. illegally to be with them and their spouses, rather than take the children back home with them.
“Most families chose to stay in the United States after a parent, typically the father, was deported. The loss of the father, often the breadwinner, caused substantial financial hardship,” the think tanks concluded.
The National Academies researches said the current level of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is “unprecedented” — chiefly because during the last major wave of immigrants, at the turn of the 20th century, there were few legal barriers so almost all immigrants were legal.