Research shatters anti-immigrant myths

Leaders of the immigration reform movement were arrested in Washington DC on On May 1, 2010. At the end of a peaceful demonstration at Lafayette Park, leaders of the immigration reform movement were arrested for a sit-in at the railings in front of the White House in what was intended to be an act of civil disobedience. (Photo courtesy Nevele Otseog under Creative Commons license. License details below)

 Studies examine trends in immigrant life

Sign in favor of immigration reform is on display outside Judson Memorial Church on West 4th Street in New York CIty on June 5th, 2010. (Photo courtesy Jens Schott Knudsen under Creative Commons license. License details below)

Elena Shore

New America Media

SAN FRANCISCO — Two new studies on U.S. immigrants could help to refute some of the key arguments used by legislators to crack down on immigrants.

A report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) finds that immigrants today are integrating into American society at the same rates as previous generations of immigrants. The study, the first to look at the future of immigrant integration, examines trends in homeownership, education, English proficiency, naturalization and income among immigrants who arrived in the 1990s.

By the year 2030, the report finds, the majority of these immigrants will be speaking English well (70.3 percent, up from 57.5 percent in 2000) and the percentage living in poverty is projected to fall from 22.8 percent in 2000 to 13.4 percent in 2030.

“Homeownership is the biggest surprise of all,” co-author Dowell Myers, a professor at the University of Southern California and director of the Population Dynamics Research Group, said during a national New America Media telephonic press briefing for ethnic media journalists on Tuesday.

Only 21 percent of Latino newcomers were homeowners in 2000; yet 67 percent are projected to own homes by the year 2030. Among all immigrants, homeownership is expected to increase from 25 percent to 72 percent. Although immigrants lost ground in the foreclosure crisis – Latinos were especially hard hit – immigrant homeownership rates were still higher in 2010 than they were in 2000, and are projected to continue to rise.

“The point is that there’s not a huge difference between Latinos and all immigrants,” Myers said.

Another report released by the Migration Policy Institute finds that second-generation Latinas are now enrolling in college at the same rate as third-generation white women (46 percent), although they are still lagging behind in graduation rates.

“Second-generation Hispanics are closing the gap in terms of access to higher education, but there remain large disparities in completing college, largely because of family, work and economic reasons,” said MPI Senior Vice President Michael Fix, a co-author of the report.

According to Myers, the findings of the latest CAP study contradict what he calls the “Peter Pan fallacy” – the myth among some longtime U.S. residents that immigrants remain frozen in time and are not assimilating into American society.

“For lack of information,” Myers said, “they are imagining the worst case. And they don’t imagine it by themselves; politicians are helping,” he said, to paint this picture of immigrants.

Political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued in his last book in 2004 that Latinos didn’t assimilate into American society as a result of their sheer numbers and their proximity to their home countries. Latino immigration, he wrote, could “divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages.”

Fears that Latino population growth constitutes a threat to American society and identity have fueled anti-immigration state laws from Arizona to Alabama. This year, the states with the highest Latino population growth according to the 2010 census – South Carolina and Alabama – enacted two of the nation’s harshest immigration laws.

“The key confusion seems to be that in a new destination…local residents can’t imagine how (immigrants) will change over time,” Myers said.

Sixty percent of immigrants in southern states like South Carolina and Alabama are new, according to another Center for American Progress report released last year. These immigrants, who have lived there for fewer than 10 years, reflect the trend of other newly arrived immigrants: they tend to have lower achievement levels and lower rates of homeownership.

In Texas and California, by contrast – states where immigrants are long settled – Latinos are much more integrated and have high rates of homeownership.

Vanessa Cardenas, director of Progress2050, a project of the Center for American Progress, said the new research could help to paint a more accurate picture of a population that she says has long been “mischaracterized” by public officials.

“In the immigration/integration debate, sometimes the facts don’t matter,” said Cardenas. “We all have a responsibility to continue pushing elected officials to make sure policies are based on facts.”

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