Study shows immigrants assimilating faster than in past

A report by a conservative think tank throws some cold water on one of the main arguments used by foes of immigration.

Published May 14, 2008 4:41PM (EDT)

Here's my latest video for our partners at Current. In it, I discuss a new study that shows that, on the whole, immigrants coming to the U.S. today are assimilating faster than their predecessors did.

This would seem to poke a hole in the arguments of today's anti-immigration forces, who often complain about the refusal of today's immigrants -- as compared with what is essentially a fictionalized image of immigrants of the past -- to assimilate into American culture.

As I say in the video, the idea that previous immigrants were much better about assimilating has always been built upon a faulty premise; nativists of those times were saying much the same thing as their modern counterparts do now. In a blog post on Tuesday, Matt Yglesias made a similar point: "A lot of people seem to have exaggerated ideas about past assimilation and simply don't realize that 100 years ago, just like today, major American cities had foreign language newspapers and things like Yiddish theater that were the equivalent of Univision. There never was a time when people got off the boat, immediately enrolled themselves in English-immersion classes, and gave birth to perfect little Anglo-Saxon children. It was always the case that linguistic, social, and economic integration was a complicated multigenerational process."

It is true, as the study showed, that Mexicans -- most often the chief target of complaints from those opposed to immigration -- are assimilating at a slower rate than immigrants from other countries. But if you look only at cultural assimilation, Mexicans are keeping pace. The other discrepancies, the study's author said, may be because of the substantial percentage of Mexicans who are in the country illegally. "If you're in the country illegally, a lot of the avenues of assimilation are cut off to you," he said. "There are lot of jobs you can't get, and you can't become a citizen."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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