Mexican Immigrants Do Not Assimilate Quickly in US, Study Finds

Pete Winn | July 7, 2008 | 8:24pm EDT
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( - Immigrants to the United States are doing a good job of assimilating, with immigrants from Cuba, Vietnam, and the Philippines leading the way in adapting to an American way of life, according to a new study. But the one group not assimilating well is Mexicans, apparently because so many of them are in the country illegally.

Excluding Mexican immigrants, the assimilation picture of the 21st century looks better than some might think, as the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank in New York City, documented in its report, Measuring Immigrant Assimilation in the United States , released Tuesday.

Study author Jacob Vigdor of Duke University points out that there is no question that today's immigrants are dissimilar from the native-born population when they first arrive.

"If you look at assimilation as a snapshot, and take the immigrant population in its totality, it is less similar to the native-born population than at basically any point in the 20th century," Vigdor told Cybercast News Service .

But the reality is, immigrants in the 21st century are doing a better job of assimilating into American society than did the generation of immigrants that arrived at Ellis Island a century ago, he said.

"If you look at assimilation as a kind of moving picture - as a process that takes time as immigrants get used to living here and climb the economic ladder and so forth -- there is actually some encouraging news," said Vigdor.

The study used census data from 1890 to 2006 to look at how close foreign-born immigrants look to the native-born population.

Immigrants from Cuba, Vietnam, and the Philippines rank near the top, alongside immigrants from Europe, Australia and New Zealand, as the quickest to acquire English, become naturalized, climb the economic ladder, intermarry with native-born Americans and become involved in American civic culture.

In fact, they are making faster progress in the melting pot than other immigrants -- or immigrants from any other periods of history.

"Today's immigrants are making more progress in assimilation because they are assimilating more rapidly," Vigdor said. "They are starting out with a disadvantage, but they are making up for that disadvantage at a rapid pace for the most part."

But Mexican immigrants, he said, are the exception.

"Immigrants from Mexico are not exhibiting the same patterns as immigrants of other nationalities," Vigdor said. "They are assimilating more slowly over time. We see this particularly in terms of their economic and their civic assimilation."

Mexicans -- by far the most numerous nationality of immigrants -- lag significantly behind other groups, Vigdor said, largely because a lack of legal status keeps many Mexican immigrants from advancing economically.

In fact, Mexican immigrants are assimilating more slowly than Italian immigrants did at the turn of the last century, Vigdor said.

Laureen Laglagaron, a policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., said the new study seems to correlate well with her own findings, with one difference: Her research finds that the children of Mexican immigrants seem to blend better with the native-born U.S. population than their parents.

"They have better advancement in terms of acquisition of college education and entry into the workforce," Laglagaron told Cybercast News Service . "The second generation, historically, has done a really good job of adopting to their new homeland. And also it's a function of country of origin - so if you are coming with English-language skills already, you'll have better time assimilating."

She also pointed to the fact that both Cuba and the Philippines were former U.S. territories and, along with Vietnam, had large U.S. military bases.

Vigdor, meanwhile, said language skills, though important for assimilation, do not determine whether immigrants will eventually become U.S. citizens. He pointed to Canada, whose immigrants score very high on most assimilation factors.

"Culturally, Canadians are indistinguishable from native-born Americans," Vigdor said. "The thing that really sets them apart is that they don't become naturalized citizens at a very high rate."

The study noted that the immigrant population of the United States has nearly quadrupled since 1970, and doubled since 1990, driven in large part by immigration from Latin America and Asia.

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