On October 7, Fareed Zakaria hosted the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto for a one-on-one talk (if we exclude the translator) on CNN. They spoke, among other things, about immigration.
Mr. Enrique Peña Nieto regretted what he labeled as anti-immigrant language some were using in the United States and reminded us that America was a country “whose origin to a great extent is one of migration and that’s why it’s unfortunate to hear this exclusionary and discriminatory tone regarding the migration flows into the United States.”
We, at FAIR, also oppose any anti-immigrant rhetoric as well as recognize America’s immigrant legacy. Having said that, it might be useful to remember other basic facts:
Of the 41 or so million immigrants in the United States (13% of the US population – more than double the 1980 percentage), Mexicans comprise by far the largest group with almost 12 million – 29% of all immigrants. Most are unskilled. Almost 60 % of all illegal aliens present in the U.S. are from Mexico.
Almost 62 million U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home, an all-time high.
The number one language spoken at home was Spanish 38.4 million. The second was Chinese by three million.
Constant Mexican immigration to the United States throughout the 20th Century resulted in the presence of the largest, multigenerational (four or more) immigrant group on American soil. This large-scale immigration led to the creation of numerous “ethnic enclaves”. In fact, more than half of all Mexican immigrants live in two states: California and Texas. Under these particular conditions, integration (not to mention assimilation) is hard to achieve.
Moreover, and according to Harvard economist George Borjas, we are witnessing today a slowdown in the economic assimilation of immigrants. The speed at which immigrants assimilate and the size of their immigrant group in the U.S. are highly correlated. The slowdown, therefore, occurred in those groups that were largest in size in the U.S. That would be the Mexican group.
More facts according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI):
Less than one-third of all Mexican immigrants have strong English-language skills.
71 percent of Mexican immigrants were Limited English Proficient (LEP).
Mexican immigrants are less likely to be university graduates (compared to all immigrant adults).
They are also more likely to live in poverty (than the native or foreign-born population overall).
America is indeed the result of a melting pot but what many fail to recognize is that immigration successes and failures are not static; what worked in the past does not necessarily work in the present. Needs, aptitudes, opportunities, as well as circumstances differ in time. Moreover, past immigration flows are not identical to those we are witnessing today, not only in number but in origin. While Europeans accounted for 97% of immigrants in the 1890s, they were only 12% in 2010. The world has dramatically changed as well. In an increasingly interconnected world, current immigrants can and do retain contact with their homeland on regular basis (this is particularly true for Mexicans in view of their geographical proximity to the U.S.). Cheap and fast travel, internet, phone, television, all sorts of accessible media and modern tools of connection affect today’s migratory experiences and encourage cultural preservation. Integration is rendered more difficult while self-sufficient enclaves are formed.
The melting pot is no longer melting, and if I were to be indulgent with my play on words, I would say it is rather frozen for the time being.
No, Americans are not anti-immigrant. But I can see how convenient it is for some to make such accusations. Americans in favor of immigration reduction and the strict enforcement of immigration laws are not racist. They know that today’s immigration levels are harming the American worker (while providing immense gains for American employers of immigrants as well as immigrants themselves). They have the right to self-determination and, through their elected representatives, should be able to admit or refuse entry to immigrants according to their desires, needs and laws.
I will leave the final words to Barbara Jordan (whose legacy we should never forget): “Immigration, like foreign policy, ought to be a place where the national interest comes first, last, and always.”
Allow us, President Peña Nieto, to defend our national interest, as, I am sure, you are yours.