Politics, Moderate



Immigrants give us their gifts every day

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- Though some people proudly think of America as a nation of immigrants, many forget that the pilgrims on the Mayflower were immigrants, too. And, of course, waves of immigrants have been arriving on the shores of the United States for so long that social science has more than a century of hard, statistical data about them.

The factoid I like to trot out every time immigrants are erroneously tied to crime is that they are more law-abiding than native-born U.S. residents. That has been the case for at least 100 years.

Shortly after the 2010 census detailed a large and growing Hispanic population, a big part of the story was how poorly educated many immigrants were, especially those from Latin America.

Inadequately staffed public schools bulged with children who spoke languages other than English at home, even as the No Child Left Behind Act and the college-for-all movement put pressure on K-12 schools to graduate more Hispanic students and pushed universities to diversify their campuses.

Many public policy experts warned that we needed to make major investments in the exploding Latino community lest their undereducation and unsure immigration status combined to create a permanent underclass of disaffected new Americans.

Those fears weren't completely overblown, and this confluence of factors did, in fact, spur heavy investment in Hispanic students. Today, Hispanic high school students boast an all-time low dropout rate of 10% (compared with 34% in 1996).


They're also going to college more than ever -- up to 37% from 22% between 2000 and 2015. Today, 28% of Hispanics have at least an associate degree, up from 15% in 2000.

I could go on and on with statistics about how Hispanics are bettering themselves, but the point is that they arrive as immigrants and find a way to thrive -- just like every prior wave of immigrants.

In fact, according to a new working paper last month from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the children of immigrants have had greater success at climbing the economic ladder than the children of U.S.-born families in the same income group. The study, titled "Intergenerational Mobility of Immigrants in the U.S. over Two Centuries," looked at millions of father-son pairs over the decades.

The researchers analyzed census data from 1880 (when immigrants were mostly from Northern and Western Europe) and 1910 (when they mostly came from Southern and Eastern Europe), all the way to the most recent data from 2010. They found that this pattern of social mobility has been stable for more than a century -- even through the immigration "invasion" scares of the late 2000s.


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