The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) has published a report, The Integration of Immigrants into American Society, 50 years after the passage of the Hart-Cellar Act, which eventually resulted in an almost four-fold increase in immigration to the United States. The recent NAS report is similar to one it published in 1997 in that it trumpets the positives of immigration while ignoring the negative consequences of expansionist immigration policies. The report 18 years ago played up the fact that adding millions of immigrants “grows the economy” simply by increasing annual GDP, and it downplayed the enormous fiscal burdens and effect on American workers that result.
The new report deals with issues of assimilation, or as the NAS terms it, integration. Steven Camarota at the Center for Immigration Studies looked at the report and wrote up his initial thoughts. Camarota, who is one of the nation’s foremost experts on U.S. immigration policy, was disappointed in the lack of balance in the NAS “findings.”
If one had to summarize the authors’ perspective, it would be that despite rampant discrimination, misguided efforts at immigration enforcement, and declining wages for unskilled workers, the nation’s 78 million immigrants and their children, through their own Herculean effort, are doing reasonably well. Nonetheless, the report implicitly and explicitly implies that immigrants need more access to welfare, the U.S. should spend more on urban education, and we should give amnesty to illegal immigrants. For the authors, any suggestion that a lower level of immigration might help avoid problems in the future or facilitate assimilation is not worth considering.
Camarota points out that the authors concentrate only on the “progress” made by immigrants leaving out the gap that remains between immigrants and natives. And that the NAS reports fails to mention the children and grandchildren of Mexican immigrants lag behind other groups and show no progress between the second and third generation. With about one-third of all children in the United States now being born to a Mexican mother, this will have far-reaching consequences.
The attitude of the NAS authors, in Camarota’s view, is that because the United States assimilated millions of immigrants from the Great Wave, millions of poor, less-educated immigrants coming into America today is no problem. But much of Camarota’s recent work has shown that America is a very different country than it was a century ago. During America’s industrial heyday there was opportunity for low-skilled workers to earn a decent living, and there was no welfare state to support those who did not. And, importantly, the purported economic gains made by immigrants in the 19th century is largely guesswork, as “there is actually no systemic wage data from that time.”
The fatal flaw in NAS’ conclusions – a flaw that characterizes most expansionist arguments about successful immigrant assimilation in the past – is that immigrants from the Great Wave assimilated because between 1924 and 1965 the number of immigrants coming to the United States was very small. Camarota notes that the percentage of foreign-born in the country went from 15 percent in 1910 to 5 percent in 1970. Ignoring this part of our past is inexcusable on the part of report’s authors.
Not surprisingly, the NAS calls for amnesty and criticizes enforcement efforts, while misrepresenting data relating to immigration and crime. In short, the NAS report is what we have come to expect from American academics regarding immigration policy. There is a lot to be said about the positive contributions that immigrants have made and continue to make in America, but doing so does not necessitate ignoring the negative consequences of current immigration policies.
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Dec 21st 2015 @ 4:20pm EST