A major concern is that newly legalized Mexican immigrants and even their descendants will not be able to assimilate into American society. Patrick Buchanan, an immigration critic and former presidential candidate, warns that “Mexican immigration is a challenge to our cultural integrity, our national identity and potentially our future as a country.” In purely economic terms, Mexican immigrant households as a group do not achieve parity in income with other Americans until after several generations. Income and educational levels rise dramatically from the first to the second generation, but there the progress seems to stagnate relative to the rest of American society. In fact, the NRC study found that the disparity of salaries among immigrants in general became smaller over time, but that the same did not happen with Mexicans.
The most obvious reason is the level of education. Mexican immigrants are the least educated; The average immigrant enters the country with 12 years of education but Mexicans do it with only 7.7 years. The children of Mexicans complete an average of 11 years of education, which leads directly to higher incomes, but then the levels do not increase with the third generation. However, this should not disqualify Mexicans entering the United States. Mexican immigrants and their children are not predestined to earn low incomes. Those who invest in their education and skills reach higher incomes and better opportunities. Millions of Mexican immigrants have been successful in achieving middle-class income and all the indicators that go with it, such as having a home of their own. Again, the correct answer is not to systematically prevent the entry of Mexicans into the United States, but to motivate them to increase their education and that of their children.
Assimilation has been an important subject in the history of American immigration. Previous waves of immigrants have had to support themselves in the economy, learn English and become active participants in American society. As a rule, immigrants have done just that throughout our history – despite the doubts of contemporary critics about each wave of “new” immigrants. The Irish of the mid-nineteenth century, Germans at the turn of the century and Italians, Poles, Strauss-Hungarians, Greeks and Russian Jews during the “Great Migration” a hundred years ago were considered too distinctly cultural and even racially to be assimilated. While Spanish has grown dramatically as a second language in the United States, there is no evidence that Mexican immigrants are not learning English.
With English growing as a global language in business, transportation, science, popular culture and cyber space, it seems unlikely that a group within the United States can isolate itself from the rest of the world. In fact, the United States has historically been considered a “cemetery of languages” because of the almost irresistible incentive of immigrants, and especially of their children, to learn English. Among all long-term immigrants in the United States, only 3% English “not well” or at all, and virtually all second- and third-generation immigrants report good levels of English. Hispanic immigrants are no exception. In 1998, in a longitudinal study of thousands of immigrant families, sociologist Ruben Rumbaed of Michigan State University found that 88% of the children of immigrants in California and Florida preferred to speak English even though 90% spoke another language in home. By the time of the third generation, most spoke only English.
Rumbaed concluded, “This pattern of rapid linguistic assimilation is constant across nationalities and socioeconomic levels, and suggests that, over time, use and fluency in foreign languages will inevitably decline-results that directly refute native fears of language enclaves Foreigners in immigrant communities. “Finally, despite being told otherwise, Mexican-Americans do not exhibit the characteristics of a subclass that rests with the country where they have decided to reside and work. In fact, like most immigrants in the history of E.E. U.U., Mexicans appreciate the freedom and opportunities presented to them by American society. According to the Bi-national Migration Study, “very few Mexican immigrants believe they have been victims of racism or discrimination; Mexican Americans seem eager to be part of the meritocratic vision of American society.”