Immigration enthusiasts have an optimism that borders on psychosis. If anyone suggests that the current policy of mass immigration is causing problems, they resoundingly reply – after the fashion of Voltaire’s Pangloss – that we have the best of all possible policies. Are immigrants not assimilating? “Don’t worry,” the enthusiasts enthuse, “They used to say that about the Irish and the Italians, but everything worked out just fine. And so it will again!”
It’s a daunting task, in the face of this happy-facing, to point out the realities that might suggest a more realistic point of view. These optimists are not kind to anyone who tries to burst their bubble, and they have plenty of friends in the media to enforce their feel-good delusions. Still, it is crucial for immigration realists to try because the consequences of ignoring consequences are not pretty. As the U.S. Marines say, “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”
Realists wishing to make the attempt would do well to reference an article by policy analyst Jason Richwine entitled “Are Low-Skill Immigrants Upwardly Mobile?” Richwine cites research indicating that Hispanics, the largest ethnic category of immigrants and their descendants, are not following the Irish and the Italians up the ladder of economic advancement and assimilation.
Progress does take place from the first to the second generations. But in terms of income levels, poverty, welfare dependency and education, the third generation falls backward from the second. Instead of upward mobility, Richwine notes, what’s happening is a “downward assimilation” toward the American underclass.
One reason for this situation is that Hispanics are lacking one great advantage that enabled the Irish and Italians to boost their status. That was the legislation that sharply reduced the previous Great Wave of immigration that crested in the early 20th century. With immigration cut, wages improved for workers, native-born and foreign-born alike. At the same time, the reduced numbers made it easier for the Melting Pot to render diversity into unity. The irony is overwhelming when immigration enthusiasts point to the success of the Irish and Italians. They seem to have no clue that reducing immigration made this success possible.
Richwine is right on target when he observes that “If we are serious about improving social mobility in the U.S., then importing millions of low-skill immigrants (of any nationality) with uncertain prospects for advancement cannot be the right policy. No one wants the U.S. to be defined by gated communities and rigid class lines common in Latin America – especially when the class lines are tinged by skin color.”
But never underestimate the commitment of the optimists to ignore the obvious. Just two years ago, they were backing legislation, which the Senate passed, to double our already massive level of legal immigration. To justify this flight from reality, they referenced various hocus-pocus studies claiming that immigration is a virtual magic elixir for making our country prosperous.
Well, if that is true, then why is it – after 40 years of mass immigration – that we have significant economic problems that either seem to be getting worse, or at least not any better? They include a shrinking middle class, wage stagnation, substantial unemployment (particularly among minorities and young people) and increasing welfare dependency.
As for assimilation, a major survey by sociologist Robert Putnam found that the areas of the country that had grown the most diverse from immigration had the lowest levels of civic attachment and community involvement. His findings were hardly remarkable because they simply confirmed what most sensible people already knew from observation and commonsense. Putnam, incidentally, is a true believer in diversity. Despite his findings, he assures us, diversity will work out in the end – somehow, some way.
Is there a cure for this mental plague of immigration optimosis? The best hope is repeatedly administered doses of reality and truth, expressed and administered by clear-thinking citizens. Consistent long-term treatments may work a cure. If not, our country’s prognosis is probably terminal.