NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 10, 2004

Immigrants from Mexico do far worse in the United States than do immigrants from other countries. Those difficulties are more a reflection of U.S. immigration policy than they are of underlying cultural differences, says Edward P. Lazear, the Morris Arnold Cox Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Mexican immigrants do not move into mainstream American society as rapidly as do other immigrants, according to Lazear. Among the reasons:

  • Mexican immigrants live in communities where 15 percent of the residents were also born in Mexico, according to the 2000 U.S. Census -- whereas non-Mexican immigrants live in communities where fewer than 3 percent of the residents are from their native land.
  • Mexican immigrants account for a much higher proportion of the immigrant population than does any other group -- 29 percent in the 2000 Census.
  • Unlike immigrants from other countries, most Mexican immigrants are admitted because they have relatives already living here.

Individuals become assimilated when their incentives to do so are great, says Lazear. An immigrant from Mexico who moves to East Los Angeles can survive knowing only Spanish and interacting primarily with people from her or his own community. A Bulgarian immigrant to Billings, Mont., must learn English quickly or return to Bulgaria.

Nothing inherent in Mexicans causes these difficulties when they come to the United Stated. Instead, it is our immigration policy that encourages the formation of large, insular Mexican communities, says Lazear. Policy changes could improve the situation:

  • Moving toward skills-based immigration and away from relative-based immigration would help ensure that immigrants do well and become integrated into U.S. society.
  • A conscious policy that encourages a more balanced distribution of countries from which we draw immigrants will improve the speed of assimilation and raise the incomes of both immigrants and U.S. natives.

Source: Edward P. Lazear (Hoover Institution), "The Road From Mexico," Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, November 10, 2004.


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