The Impact of Mass Immigration on the Children of Immigrants
For most immigrants coming to the United States – be it in the 19th or 21st centuries – the aspiration has been for their children to do significantly better than they did, and for their grandchildren and subsequent descendants to fare better still. A bitter irony may be that unchecked mass immigration – without sufficient breathing spells between various immigrant “waves” – makes it more difficult to achieve upward mobility, historically referred to as the “American dream.” One may certainly draw such a conclusion from a recent report by Steven A. Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) examining the socio-economic status (SES) of second- and third-generation Americans. The study – which is by no means all “gloom and doom” – is nevertheless a sobering corrective to the pro-mass-immigration lobby’s naïvely over-optimistic narrative about the prospects of immigrants and their descendants.
Drawing on U.S. Census Bureau data, Camarota looks at the 25-29 age cohort because they are “for the most part, (…) old enough to be independent of their parents” but “young enough that their parents are still relatively recent arrivals” (having arrived between the 1970s and 90s). Thus, the CIS study examined the children of immigrants who arrived during the three decades directly following the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which made “family unification” (i.e., chain migration), rather than skills or merit, the cornerstone of our immigration system. The illegal migration flow has similarly been dominated by lower-skilled, less educated foreign nationals.
The CIS report finds that “the SES of these younger second-generation adults nearly equals that of third-generation-plus Americans (those with U.S.-born parents) in most but not all measures of SES.” That’s good news, but things look much more problematic when it comes to Hispanics specifically, who make up 58 percent of the U.S.-born target population with at least one immigrant parent. Second-generation Hispanics “have much lower SES than second-generation Americans generally. In fact, even third-generation Hispanics have a SES that is a good deal lower than for third-generation Americans overall,” Camarota writes. So, while the descendants of immigrants are, for the most part, undeniably doing much better than their parents or grandparents, it is still concerning that all too many – Latinos in particular – are not living up to their full potential.
Camarota does not speculate about the potential causes of the above socio-economic discrepancies, other than pointing out that the children of more educated immigrants unsurprisingly do better than those of the less educated. And the latter dominated among the parents of the second generation. This once again brings us back to the impact of 1965 immigration legislation since “each new wave of immigrants since the 1960s has tended to start out poorer and not speak English well at least through the 1990s,” and “the progress they make in the United States over time, while substantial, still leaves them less able to speak English well and poorer than prior waves of immigrants relative to the U.S.-born.”
This concerning trend highlights why we should heed the warning of author Reihan Salam, the son of Bangladeshi immigrants, who argues that we ought to “worry about the children they [immigrants] raise on American soil, and what will happen to our society if impoverished immigrants give rise to an impoverished second generation that has no memory of life in the old country and who won’t tolerate being relegated to second-class status.” Thus, our immigration system should be based primarily on merit and we must reduce overall numbers in order to allow both native-born Americans and immigrants the opportunity to form a successful legacy in this country.