Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U. The United States ignores this challenge at its peril. October 28, , PM America was created by 17th- and 18th-century settlers who were overwhelmingly white, British, and Protestant. Their values, institutions, and culture provided the foundation for and shaped the development of the United States in the following centuries. They initially defined America in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and religion.
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Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U. The United States ignores this challenge at its peril. America was created by 17th- and 18th-century settlers who were overwhelmingly white, British, and Protestant. Their values, institutions, and culture provided the foundation for and shaped the development of the United States in the following centuries. They initially defined America in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and religion. Then, in the 18th century, they also had to define America ideologically to justify independence from their home country, which was also white, British, and Protestant.
With World War II and the assimilation of large numbers of southern and eastern European immigrants and their offspring into U. So did race, following the achievements of the civil rights movement and the Immigration and Nationality Act of Americans now see and endorse their country as multiethnic and multiracial.
As a result, American identity is now defined in terms of culture and creed. Most Americans see the creed as the crucial element of their national identity. The creed, however, was the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers. Contributions from immigrant cultures modified and enriched the Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers.
The essentials of that founding culture remained the bedrock of U. Would the United States be the country that it has been and that it largely remains today if it had been settled in the 17th and 18th centuries not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is clearly no. Americans like to boast of their past success in assimilating millions of immigrants into their society, culture, and politics.
But Americans have tended to generalize about immigrants without distinguishing among them and have focused on the economic costs and benefits of immigration, ignoring its social and cultural consequences.
As a result, they have overlooked the unique characteristics and problems posed by contemporary Hispanic immigration. The extent and nature of this immigration differ fundamentally from those of previous immigration, and the assimilation successes of the past are unlikely to be duplicated with the contemporary flood of immigrants from Latin America.
This reality poses a fundamental question: Will the United States remain a country with a single national language and a core Anglo-Protestant culture? By ignoring this question, Americans acquiesce to their eventual transformation into two peoples with two cultures Anglo and Hispanic and two languages English and Spanish. The impact of Mexican immigration on the United States becomes evident when one imagines what would happen if Mexican immigration abruptly stopped. The annual flow of legal immigrants would drop by about ,, closer to the level recommended by the s Commission on Immigration Reform chaired by former U.
Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Illegal entries would diminish dramatically. The wages of low-income U. Debates over the use of Spanish and whether English should be made the official language of state and national governments would subside. Bilingual education and the controversies it spawns would virtually disappear, as would controversies over welfare and other benefits for immigrants.
The debate over whether immigrants pose an economic burden on state and federal governments would be decisively resolved in the negative. The average education and skills of the immigrants continuing to arrive would reach their highest levels in U. The inflow of immigrants would again become highly diverse, creating increased incentives for all immigrants to learn English and absorb U.
The experience and lessons of past immigration have little relevance to understanding its dynamics and consequences. Mexican immigration differs from past immigration and most other contemporary immigration due to a combination of six factors: contiguity, scale, illegality, regional concentration, persistence, and historical presence. Kennedy Airport. In other words, immigrants arrive in the United States after crossing several thousand miles of ocean. These assumptions and policies, however, have little or no relevance for Mexican immigration.
The United States is now confronted by a massive influx of people from a poor, contiguous country with more than one third the population of the United States. They come across a 2,mile border historically marked simply by a line in the ground and a shallow river.
This situation is unique for the United States and the world. No other First World country has such an extensive land frontier with a Third World country. The significance of the long Mexican-U.
Scale The causes of Mexican, as well as other, immigration are found in the demographic, economic, and political dynamics of the sending country and the economic, political, and social attractions of the United States.
Contiguity, however, obviously encourages immigration. Mexican immigration increased steadily after About , Mexicans legally migrated to the United States in the s; 1,, in the s; and 2,, in the s. In those three decades, Mexicans accounted for 14 percent, 23 percent, and 25 percent of total legal immigration. These percentages do not equal the rates of immigrants who came from Ireland between and , or from Germany in the s and s.
Yet they are high compared to the highly dispersed sources of immigrants before World War I, and compared to other contemporary immigrants. To them one must also add the huge numbers of Mexicans who each year enter the United States illegally. Since the s, the numbers of foreign-born people in the United States have expanded immensely, with Asians and Latin Americans replacing Europeans and Canadians, and diversity of source dramatically giving way to the dominance of one source: Mexico.
Mexican immigrants constituted The next largest contingents, Chinese and Filipinos, amounted to only 4. In the s, Mexicans composed more than half of the new Latin American immigrants to the United States and, by , Hispanics totaled about one half of all migrants entering the continental United States.
Hispanics composed 12 percent of the total U. This group increased by almost 10 percent from to and has now become larger than blacks. It is estimated Hispanics may constitute up to 25 percent of the U. These changes are driven not just by immigration but also by fertility. In , fertility rates in the United States were estimated at 1.
But now, for the first time in U. Illegality Illegal entry into the United States is overwhelmingly a post and Mexican phenomenon.
For almost a century after the adoption of the U. Constitution, no national laws restricted or prohibited immigration, and only a few states imposed modest limits. During the following 90 years, illegal immigration was minimal and easily controlled. The immigration law, the increased availability of transportation, and the intensified forces promoting Mexican emigration drastically changed this situation. Apprehensions by the U.
Border Patrol rose from 1. Estimates of the Mexicans who successfully enter illegally each year range from , according to a binational Mexican-American commission to , during the s according to the U. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The Immigration Reform and Control Act contained provisions to legalize the status of existing illegal immigrants and to reduce future illegal immigration through employer sanctions and other means.
The former goal was achieved: Some 3. But the latter goal remains elusive. Estimates of the total number of illegal immigrants in the United States rose from 4 million in to 6 million in , to 7 million in , and to between 8 and 10 million by Mexicans accounted for 58 percent of the total illegal population in the United States in ; by , an estimated 4. In , illegal Mexicans in the United States were 25 times as numerous as the next largest contingent, from El Salvador.
Regional Concentration The U. Founding Fathers considered the dispersion of immigrants essential to their assimilation. That has been the pattern historically and continues to be the pattern for most contemporary non-Hispanic immigrants. Hispanics, however, have tended to concentrate regionally: Mexicans in Southern California, Cubans in Miami, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans the last of whom are not technically immigrants in New York.
The more concentrated immigrants become, the slower and less complete is their assimilation. In the s, the proportions of Hispanics continued to grow in these regions of heaviest concentration. At the same time, Mexicans and other Hispanics were also establishing beachheads elsewhere.
While the absolute numbers are often small, the states with the largest percentage increases in Hispanic population between and were, in decreasing order: North Carolina percent increase , Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Nevada, and Alabama percent. Hispanics have also established concentrations in individual cities and towns throughout the United States.
The biggest concentrations of Hispanics, however, are in the Southwest, particularly California. In , nearly two thirds of Mexican immigrants lived in the West, and nearly half in California. To be sure, the Los Angeles area has immigrants from many countries, including Korea and Vietnam. In , 64 percent of the Hispanics in Los Angeles were of Mexican origin, and By , it is estimated that Hispanics will make up more than half of the Los Angeles population.
Most immigrant groups have higher fertility rates than natives, and hence the impact of immigration is felt heavily in schools. The highly diversified immigration into New York, for example, creates the problem of teachers dealing with classes containing students who may speak 20 different languages at home. In contrast, Hispanic children make up substantial majorities of the students in the schools in many Southwestern cities.
The schools of Los Angeles are becoming Mexican. In , for the first time since the s, a majority of newborn children in California were Hispanic. Persistence Previous waves of immigrants eventually subsided, the proportions coming from individual countries fluctuated greatly, and, after , immigration was reduced to a trickle. In contrast, the current wave shows no sign of ebbing and the conditions creating the large Mexican component of that wave are likely to endure, absent a major war or recession.
In the long term, Mexican immigration could decline when the economic well-being of Mexico approximates that of the United States. As of , however, U. If that difference were cut in half, the economic incentives for migration might also drop substantially.
The Hispanic Challenge
They came from many different countries, spoke different languages, and came legally. The Cuban government has responded in kind. The Hispanic Challenge Congressional delegation and nearly one half of its state legislators, were of Cuban origin. Infor the first time since the s, a majority of newborn children in California were Hispanic. Subsequent immigrants were more lower class. Hayakawa once highlighted the unique role of Hispanics in opposing English.
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