Some Latino Facts

by Russ Roberts on April 11, 2006

in Immigration

Novelist and ex-journalist Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez in Sunday’s Washington Post provides some basic facts about Latinos that may surprise you. My favorites:

5 Language is not genetic. The Pew Hispanic Center shows that
by the third generation, 100 percent of Latinos speak English as their
first and often only language. This is the precise assimilation pattern
for every other foreign-language immigrant group in this country. P.S.
If you’re so opposed to non-English words, you may speak the names of
only 13 American states and almost no cities in the Southwest.

6 Hispanics
like to remind you about America’s Hispanic past not because we want to
go back to it, but because we are sick of you assuming that all Latinos
are immigrants.
My family has been in New Mexico for seven generations. Bet I beat Lou Dobbs on that one.

7   Please stop sending e-mails saying things such as, "All you Hispanics should go home." I, like most Hispanics you see every day, am already home.

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{ 36 comments }

Don Mynack April 11, 2006 at 10:49 am

Congrats to Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez for pointing out the obvious, I guess. What kind of an idiot wants all Hispanics to "go home"?

Another attempt to frame this debate about all immigration, when it is really only about illegal immigration. It belittles only Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez to present it as such.

anony April 11, 2006 at 11:39 am

This conflates illegal and legal hispanic immigrants. In my experience, 1st and 2nd generation middle-class hispanic legal immigrants are among the MOST vehemently opposed to hispanic illegal immigration and among the most in favor of assimilation.

My latino relatives often deride illegals because they are illegal and because they won't assimilate.

Noah Yetter April 11, 2006 at 12:22 pm

"What kind of an idiot wants all Hispanics to "go home"?"

There is no shortage of such people. Arguments over economics are only half the story, much anti-immigration sentitment is simply racism/xenophobia veiled in PC language.

bbartlog April 11, 2006 at 12:44 pm

It's not exactly a straw man inasfar as the positions she attacks are indeed held by a significant minority of people; but on the other hand it's easy to look good when you deliberately choose to debate the more ignorant and radical of your opponents. I do quibble with the notion that there is any such thing as a 'precise assimilation pattern' that covers all immigrant groups; the rate of language acquisition is very dependent on how many immigrants there are and how much political control they have over local schooling. For example German immigrants in Chicago and Pennsylvania were able to maintain their language for a long time due to their numbers in the area, and I would expect the same thing to happen in LA and other areas where Hispanic immigrants both legal and illegal are numerous. I do have trouble understanding why people get so worked up over the language issue; there are some costs associated with having a minority that speaks a different language, but these fall overwhelmingly on the minority themselves. There are also countries, such as Switzerland, that manage to maintain a multilingual state.

John Dewey April 11, 2006 at 1:50 pm

Anony: "In my experience, 1st and 2nd generation middle-class hispanic legal immigrants are among the MOST vehemently opposed to hispanic illegal immigration and among the most in favor of assimilation."

Really? Where did your experience take place?

I walked alongside 500,000 Hispanics Sunday at the immigration rally here in Dallas. Many of them were 1st and 2nd generation legal immigrants. Some were married to illegal immigants. Some were children who had been born here. Some had friends who were illegal immigrants. All of them were very proud and joyous on Sunday.

Many Hispanic families in Texas are mixtures: some are citizens; some are legal immigrants; and some are illegal immigrants.

My wife works every day with a Mexican-American woman who just became a citizen. She had illegally entered the U.S. years ago. She left her two children behind in Mexico and sneaked across the Arizona desert at night. Her story, as my wife tells it, is inspirational. The only sad part is that her husband is now facing deportation. He identified himself to the government when Irene gained her citizenship. Apparently, he mistakenly thought that he could stay because both his wife and their U.S.-born child were now citizens. My guess is that the court will take that into consideration, but maybe not.

Trevor April 11, 2006 at 2:19 pm

John Dewey: "The only sad part is that her husband is now facing deportation. He identified himself to the government when Irene gained her citizenship."

Funny how the government takes otherwise appropriate steps as long as they don't need to do any work. Mark Steyn had a good piece this weekend about the misplaced priorities and absurd immigration policy that we presently have.

That said, isn't this debate really about immigrants who view their entrance as a privilege vs. those who view it as an entitlement?

I agree with Don that illegals probably can't be expected to assimilate. But doesn't this neglect the fact that there are many Mexicans and other legal immigrants who play by the rules? More to the point, who should shoulder the responsibility for their illegal status? Us?

I'm getting tired of hearing "we're all a nation of immigrants." Valdes-Rodriguez even admits we're not. But this changes nothing about illegals' neglect for the rule of law and our government's refusal to enforce it. We can get rid of all our immigration laws for all I care; I'm sick of these excuses.

John Dewey April 11, 2006 at 2:56 pm

Trevor,

All I can ask is that you consider the choices illegal immigrants face.

My wife's friend Irene could not continue to feed and clothe her two children on her tiny Mexican income. She left what she loved the most, her children, to cross the border. She felt she had to find work and send money home. It was an act of truly selfless courage.

Irene had no relatives in the U.S. to sponsor her. She would have waited for years to "play by the rules" of legal entry. Her children would have suffered severe poverty all the while.

Can you place any blame on her for the choice she made? The U.S. was only half-heartedly enforcing its border. She had been correctly told that employers in the U.S. were ready to pay 20 times what she was making in Mexico. It must have seemed to be a win-win for everyone. And, quite frankly, I think it was.

You may argue that someone who played by the rules had to wait longer because Irene entered illegally. I doubt that. That rule-player did get a benefit, anyway. He or she was free to go anywhere with no fear of being deported, free to return to the home country to visit.

Just try to put yourself in Irene's shoes as a very young parent. Would you have broken the rules yourself?

Kevin S. April 11, 2006 at 3:17 pm

Anony: "My latino relatives often deride illegals because they are illegal and because they won't assimilate."

Don: "Perhaps being 'illegal' discourages assimilation."

Post-amnesty legal immigrants are largely well-educated and have probably learned english before their arrival. It far easier for educated immigrants to asssimilate than it is for those who are sneaking across the border. If you have money and live in Mexico, getting to America is a realistic goal. One may even agrue that it is the educated immigrants who "steal american jobs." It's easy for immigrants who can grease the right palms to turn their nose up at the dirty bastards that are sneaking across the border in the middle of the night.

But the poor and uneducated immigrants have little choice but to sneak in if they want to earn a better life for their families…and they are they one's who will take a few generations to assimilate because of their lack of formal education and their tendency to live and work near others who are like them, (think ethnic neighborhoods in NYC).

What seems to be lacking is the ability for the poor and uneducated to legally gain access to the opportunites that the US has to offer. Through tighter limits on numbers of immigrants and endless red tape, we are ignoring the history of the late 19th through mid 20th century immigration policy. We still need cheap labor, but by allowing (and accepting) only wealthy and educated immigrants we are denying ourselves an economically-advantageous labor pool and denying a class of immigrant the opportunities that many of our ancestors had. If the problem of educational and healthcare costs is the rub, it is the policies of mandatory publicly-funded education and socialized healthcare that should be addressed.

Trevor April 11, 2006 at 3:33 pm

John,

It seems to me you're making the argument that it's A-O.K. to break the rules (law) so long as you live in less than ideal conditions. There are always people who live less well relative to others. Would I like to live in Kenya? Probably not. Does this afford Kenyans the right to break our laws? I'd say 'no'.

There are many laws we might disagree with, yet follow for fear of facing prosecution. I'd love to see marijuana legalized, some sort of consumption tax or flat tax replace our current tax code, and the state of Maryland allow me to carry a firearm down the street, among other things that would restore the private property rights we once had but possess no longer. But that's why I constantly petition the government to change.

There are always laws people will disagree with. That's one small cost of a free country. I can't see how flouting them simply because we don't agree with them is any better for the individual, or for fending off anarchy.

There are way too many angles to explore here, but the point is we have laws – laws that need to be respected by both those of us who live under them and the government entrusted with enforcing them. Do I blame your friend for coming here knowing she probably wouldn't be prosecuted? Of course not? But you can't argue that she shouldn't be held accountable for choices she made – choices I'm sure she's glad she made nonetheless, but could very well find her in jail.

That her coming her was worth it despite our laws says a lot about both Mexico and the U.S.

xteve April 11, 2006 at 3:35 pm

"Another attempt to frame this debate about all immigration, when it is really only about illegal immigration."

It's one thing to object to immigration. I look down on that objection, to put it politely. But when your only problem with immigrants is when they fail to fill out the paperwork required by the state (for whatever reason) then frankly i find your views scary.

You're saying, in effect, "I don't judge people by who they are or where they come from, but we need to crack down on all who fail to submit fully to the whims of the state."

Trevor April 11, 2006 at 3:48 pm

Yes, xsteve, the same "whims of the state" you have to submit to if you travel to, say, France.

Dom April 11, 2006 at 3:58 pm

"But when your only problem with immigrants is when they fail to fill out the paperwork required by the state (for whatever reason) then frankly i find your views scary."

Actually, to say someone is illegal means much more than "he failed to fill out paperwork." It means we know nothing about their taxes, their benefits, etc.

xteve April 11, 2006 at 4:12 pm

"Actually, to say someone is illegal means much more than "he failed to fill out paperwork." It means we know nothing about their taxes, their benefits, etc."

Am I supposed to feel less uneasy about your insistance on knowing the details of all their economic transactions?

Sounds to me like this is just another example of submitting to the whims of the state, regardless of whether the state is acting justly or not. Blind allegence to authority, always.

& Trevor: I don't understand you comment about France.

eddie April 11, 2006 at 4:29 pm

Don Mynack: "Another attempt to frame this debate about all immigration, when it is really only about illegal immigration."

If the debate were truly about illegal immigration, the problem would be easily solved. Immigrants enter this country illegally only because they are forbidden from entering this country by arbitrary quotas. If we abolished the quotas, illegal immigration would disappear overnight.

There would be much more immigration, but it would all be perfectly legal.

Don, if you truly feel the debate is "really only about illegal immigration" rather than about immigration in general, do you favor abolishing immigration quotas?

TGGP April 11, 2006 at 5:18 pm

I don't judge people by who they are or where they come from, but we need to crack down on all who fail to submit fully to the whims of the state.

I (at least partially) agree with this statement. We should judge people by their actions. The state prohibits actions it deems harmful. A good deal of the time those actions really are harmful. I believe that is the case with our current wave of immigration.

TGGP April 11, 2006 at 5:20 pm

P.S Someone should tell Rodriguez that there isn't much opposition to the use of foreign proper nouns.

Timothy April 11, 2006 at 5:37 pm

The state prohibits actions it deems harmful.

So we should just allow the state to do what it pleases then? Our Dear Leaders say something is harmful and we should just go ahead and believe them?

Kevin S. April 11, 2006 at 5:41 pm

"…we need to crack down on all who fail to submit fully to the whims of the state….The state prohibits actions it deems harmful. A good deal of the time those actions really are harmful. I believe that is the case with our current wave of immigration."

Seriously? Am I missing some sarcasm? Please describe the harms from the act of Mexicans and Central Americans crossing the border to work.

xteve April 11, 2006 at 6:51 pm

Kevin, you don't understand. Illegal immigrants are Bad People because they break immigration laws. We need these immigration laws to protect us from these Bad illegal immigrants.

Eddie, you also don't understand. Relaxing the laws won't help us punish the Bad Illegals who already broke existing laws. It would actually make it harder for us to punish them. That's what this is all about, after all: punishing those who refuse to do what we say, regardless of whether what we say is right or wrong.

This is why this possition disturbs me so much: the possition's proponants stress the legality issue as the determining factor in the issue regarding immigration because they conflate legal behavior with moral behavior. If they offer examples of actual bad things some illegals do, & you point out that only some do these things, & that some legal immigrants, or even natives, also do these things, they'll go back to the legality question. Ultimately, for them, it's about submission to authority, for its own sake.

If I'm mischaracterizing anyone, please correct me.

xteve April 11, 2006 at 6:53 pm

(by the way, my first two paragraphs in the above post were sarcastic)

someguy April 11, 2006 at 9:38 pm

Was man created to serve the economy, or was the economy created to serve man? If keeping Mexicans out makes America richer, why not go further? Why not keep all non-native Texans out of Texas? Better yet, why not just sit out on your front porch with a shotgun and keep everyone off your front lawn? Live off the dividends of that.
If high immigration causes lowered wages and an impoverished nation, who can show me the nation that grew rich by exporting people?

Henri Hein April 12, 2006 at 2:13 am

"My latino relatives often deride illegals because they are illegal "

Like John Dewey, this is diametrically opposite from my own experience.

I'm a legal immigrant. (I'm not latino, though). If all illegal immigrants were granted amnesty, my only response would be "good for them."

Further, I work with lots of legal immigrants. None of them feel the way you or your relatives do towards the illegal immigrants.

JohnDewey April 12, 2006 at 6:42 am

Trevor,

Illegal border crossing is a misdemeanor. To my knowledge, no illegal border crosser has faced more than a day or two incarceration for that offense alone for at least 30 years. The risks from the U.S. government are very small.

I'm told the real risks in crossing are the dangers of the desert and the money paid to coyotes, money that would be lost if one is caught crossing the border.

bill shuman April 12, 2006 at 3:39 pm

i-l-l-e-g-a-l.

Seems simple.
Those who enter the country by stealth diminish those who enter the country under the law.

Those who say that economics determine the hiring of illegals (of any nationality) profit from their hiring.

Those politicians who vociferously proclaim amnesty for those already here see only votes to improve their power base.

Those who demand the benefits of citizenship for non-citizens diminish the entire concept of citizenship.

Those who confuse human rights with the rights of citizenship
are dangerously ill-informed.

The illegals here should have to pay a heavier price than a long walk/run in the desert. Call it a fee or fine.

English should be a required language skill.

Even better, we should impliment Mexico's immigration law!

Yeah, that's the ticket!

josh April 12, 2006 at 4:04 pm

Bill,

If there's anything else I can do to "diminish the entire concept of citizenship", let me know so I can do it. Enthusiastically.

xteve April 12, 2006 at 5:06 pm

"English should be a required language skill."

Why?

someguy April 12, 2006 at 8:55 pm

I'm not sure that it's right to close a border that's been more or less open for these people and their ancestors, and for you people and your ancestors to freely cross for hundreds of years. Especially when some of their ancestors have been in the general region for thousands of years.

For Bill Shuman:

"Those who say that economics determine the hiring of illegals (of any nationality) profit from their hiring."

This is a truism; noone stays in business hiring people without profit.

I'm a Canadian born; when I came to this country, I didn't speak any language. I couldn't walk, or really see, and I was decades from producing any sort of financial return on anybody's investment in me. People who just walk across the border roll up their sleeves and get to work are a bargain which America would be crazy to pass up.

save_the_rustbelt April 12, 2006 at 9:07 pm

Gee, I'm an American citizen, and I have to obey the law, including the idiotic demands of the IRS (and the IRS got the rules from Congress) and other federal bureaucracies.

Whether I like the laws is irrelevant, except when I get to vote, which doesn't seem to do much good.

So we are going to say illegals can disobey the law becuase it makes economic sense, but I cannot. Say what?

By the way, most illegals use forged federal documents and committ federal income tax evasion. If I did that I would be prosecuted for federal felonies.

xteve April 13, 2006 at 1:22 am

save_the_rustbelt:

I agree there are plenty of stupid, pointless, markedly unjust laws the state expects you to obey. If you were not to comply with these laws, the state would likely punish you. Regardless of where you were born, I think that's a tragedy. I'm advocating no double standard here.

My family has lived in America for literally hundreds of years. We fought in the Revolution, so you probably think we ought to have been hanged for treason against the crown. The law is the law, after all.

We violated the Fugitive Slave Act on at least one occasion. You might think we ought to have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, because no law should ever be questioned.

We had a still during Prohibition. O the horrors!

I'm sure one of us has an illegal toilet. Deal with it.

You're upset that the state would punish you for breaking unjust laws. I'm upset too. They should leave you alone, & they should leave the immigrants alone.

This desire to mete out punishment for nothing more than not bowing down to the authorities YOU recognize (which by extention I suspect you imagine to be YOUR authority) is a symptom of a far greater problem, but it's your problem, for which you might want to seek counselling.

But remember this: you can work illegally & cheat on your taxes & get phony SS numbers or whatever if you want, but you don't, because you have the option of working here legally, whereas some immigrants lack this option. You have all the options they have. All we want is for them to have the options you have.

Strophyx April 13, 2006 at 2:26 pm

Incentives, and the cultural milieu that helps generate them are everything here. My father recalls when his family decided to stop speaking German when the US entered the first world war. A few years ago my young son purchased a home from an elderly couple. She did most of the speaking on their part during the closing, in a Polish accent so thick I doubt I would have been able to understand anything she said had I not been an undergraduate in the Chicago area. I had never heard her husband speak a word of English during the entire proceedings; she acted as his interpreter the entire time. While my son was busy signing some papers, I spoke with her a bit, learning that she came here from Cracow in the early 50's. Assuming that her husband had come to the US more recently, I asked where he was from. Her response: "Buffalo".

BTW, never assume that an unwillingness to speak English, particularly by an older person, indicates an inability to do so. I've learned over the years that it's much more likely to be indicative of pride and embarassment over less than perfect speaking ability.

faultolerant April 14, 2006 at 12:10 pm

Xteve, so in your worldview, it's OK to violate any law you choose simply because you want to. That is, after all, exactly what you're advocating.

What makes Latinos special in this instance? Simply because there are a lot of them in US it should be OK for them to say "Yes, we're illegal – get over it". Right?

In general I like most Latinos – I find them to be hardworking, decent folks. Instituting a double standard for one class versus another is called discrimination.

John Dewey: Your wonderful, sad story about your wife's friend is absolutely, totally and completely irrelevant. Everyone wants more for themselves and their families – it's called being a human and a consumer. Some sad sob story doesn't change a thing: the husband needs to be deported. Full stop.

Having half a million people march in Dallas is some show of force, isn't it? These are people in the US illegally (and I won't argue about whether the law is right or wrong – it's asinine) and making DEMANDS for rights they're not entitled to. Why should anyone give a flying damn what these people want? As a native born I can't get by with this kind of blatant disregard for the law (again, regardless if the law is good or bad), but a buttload of Mexicans can. Hmmm….sounds like a huge double standard to me.

And, yes, it IS important to ask: what about those folks who emigrated here LEGALLY. Massive paperwork and lots of legal expenses…for what? If your argument is that they got to work wherever they wanted, instead of being "underground" like illegals are, you've never worked on a visa, have you?

Spend a little time researching what it takes to be here legally – and the hoops you have to go through – before you dismiss that effort. Yes, the INS is inane and full if idjits, but those folks who worked their way through the system deserve more than being marginalized by a horde of squawking, whining, marching illegals.

I'm certainly not in favor of making illegals felons. However, I also can't see holding out the welcome mat and saying, "Come on in". Xteve and John Dewey your arguments are emotionally pretty but don't do much real convincing.

Unfortunately, the saps and easily swayed in Congress will give "amnesty" to the current bunch of illegals – and then, who knows, maybe we can rewrite the Constitution with an amendment that says "If you come here illegally, bitch and whine enough, you can ignore any laws you like. After all, we have no right to ask anyone from Mexico to obey US laws. That might be discrimination."

xteve April 14, 2006 at 8:18 pm

"Xteve, so in your worldview, it's OK to violate any law you choose simply because you want to. That is, after all, exactly what you're advocating."

Actually, you're mischaracterizing my position. I was objecting to the argument that merely disobeying a law meant you commited a moral transgression & which was grounds for punishment.

Murder, for example, is wrong, but not just because it's illegal. We could get into a philosophical debate over what constitutes morality, but I don't think that's relevant. Those to whom I was responding were not making any moral arguments against immigration, or really any arguments. In fact they said immigration itself was fine, but they advocated punishing anyone who broke the law, because the law is the law is the law is the law. If the law said I couldn't rescue a drowning baby, but did anyway, then if they'd follow their own arguments they'd tsk-tsk me & call for my punishment.

I do think it's a double standard if some can successfully break laws you cannot. If either of you are trangressing against persons or property then you should be stopped. If not, then neither of you should be. If the law went contrary to morality I'd call for the law to be changed (or scrapped) & would see no benefit to anyone in the continued enforcement of that law in the meantime. What I question is the assumption that any gap in enforcement should be leveled by cracking down on the other guy, without examining whether the law is even just.

& franky, I couldn't care the slightest how much work goes into legally immigrating as a measure of whether they should punish illegals. I don't see how that's even vaguely relevant.

JohnDewey April 15, 2006 at 3:08 am

faultolerant:
"Your wonderful, sad story about your wife's friend is absolutely, totally and completely irrelevant."

I think you're mistaken. The computers you and I program may be cold and uncompassionate. But the law, the makers of the law, and the interpreters of the law are not. Neither are the citizens who employ those lawmakers and judges.

At deportation hearings – or more precisely, at the appeal hearings following deportation hearings – judges do consider the situations of those determined to be deportable.

Immigration laws are constantly changing, and it's difficult for anyone but attorneys to stay current. At least as recently as 2003, immigration judges could consider the hardship that deportation might impose on family members who are U.S. citizens.

Immigration laws are being changed in the U.S. right now. Citizens writing to Congress need to understand the human story behind immigration laws and government actions. They need to understand how existing immigration restrictions, if enforced, will tear apart families and actually increase the social costs of our economy. They need to see messages countering the cold assertions that every illegal is a criminal and should therefore be immediately deported.

speedwell April 18, 2006 at 4:01 pm

My father was a refugee, airlifted from Hungary in 1956 and sponsored by a church in the Midwest. My mother's parents were immigrants, too, who met in the USA. I have no clue what their legal status was, but judging from the fact that Granddad left a wife behind in Italy and never bothered to retrieve her, I doubt he had too much regard for such petty things as laws. My mom and dad had no common language but English, so we did not speak any foreign languages at home. Dad refused to speak Hungarian because, he said, he was an American now.

My little brother met a Latina in college and married her. Her father does not speak English, and her mother speaks only a little. But her family has actually been in America for several generations; don't let it be lost on you that this is far longer than mine has

My brother has two sons. Spanish is spoken at their home as much as English is. My father is disgusted. LOL

Karen April 21, 2006 at 11:02 pm

Just for the record, crossing the border is not a criminal offense. It's civil infraction.

American April 29, 2006 at 9:38 pm

The American National Anthem

Oh Jose cant you see, we're tired of supporting thee.

When you snuck acrossed the border, it began an illegal plight.

Over broad stripes and bright stars, We'll continue to Fight.

Mexican Flags we did watch, that were so sadly streaming.

Our tempers did flare, with Mexican's everywhere.

Gave proof to the nite, we must send them back there.

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave.

For the land of the U. S. Citizen and the home of the American's.

written and produced by U.S. Citizens
Made In America

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