Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Good News and Less-Than-Good News on the Assimilation of Immigrants

A Washington Post story today covers the results of a major new study on the assimilation of the modern wave of immigrants into American life, as measured by the political, economic, and social similarities of immigrants to native-born Americans.  The good news is that the pace of assimilation seems to be running quite fast:

In general, the longer an immigrant lives in the United States, the more characteristics of native citizens he or she tends to take on, said Jacob L. Vigdor, a professor at Duke University and author of the study. During periods of intense immigration, such as from 1870 to 1920, or during the immigration wave that began in the 1970s, new arrivals tend to drag down the average assimilation index of the foreign-born population as a whole.

The report found, however, that the speed with which new arrivals take on native-born traits has increased since the 1990s. As a result, even though the foreign population doubled during that period, the newcomers did not drive down the overall assimilation index of the foreign-born population. Instead, it held relatively steady from 1990 to 2006.

"This is something unprecedented in U.S. history," Vigdor said. "It shows that the nation's capacity to assimilate new immigrants is strong."

The not-so-good news is that immigrants in  the modern wave of newcomers have less in common with native-born citizens than immigrants in previous waves did, largely because so many do not know English:

Although new arrivals at the turn of the 20th century were most likely to be eastern and southern Europeans, [Vigdor] said, "one of the top five origin countries was England, and close to 100 percent of them spoke English." By contrast, the majority of immigrants today are Mexicans and other Latin Americans, with the next largest share coming from a range of developing nations with languages other than English.

While there's a bit of something for everyone to be gleaned from the  results, I'm sure advocates for immigration restriction will not take the study author's conclusion about the fast rate of immigrant assimilation lying down.  Should be interesting to see how the impending controversy on that point plays out.

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