Immigrants Fitting In


There’s better news on immigration today. A study by demographers at the University of Southern California shows that people who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1990s “made consistent progress toward social and economic integration until the Great Recession” (“Immigrants Are Still Fitting In,” Wall Street Journal, Monday, November 14, 2011, A5).

There are some particularly engaging facts in the report. One is that these successfully assimilated immigrants are mainly from Asia and Latin America. The authors compiled census data, and used measures such as overcoming poverty, owning a home, and acquiring proficiency in the English language. This study focused on the old “melting-pot” ideal, which means erasing differences between themselves and natives. In other words, there was a desire and effort on the part of the Asian and Latin American newcomers to fit into what is broadly defined as American culture.

One of the notable trends is the way in which the 1990s immigrants placed such high value on home ownership (“the American dream”) that they would pool money and purchase lower priced properties to achieve that goal.

The article suggests that immigrants from Asia and developed countries assimilate more quickly because they know what to expect. They recognize opportunities.

The demographers say that it takes two decades to allow for complete assimilation. Ironically, many Americans do not perceive that, nationwide, newcomers are assimilating, especially if they are among immigrants who do not progress as quickly, that is, they are not well prepared.

My last blog was about the need to prepare immigrants, and our foolish waste of money on fences that could be applied to programs that would educate and orient people to the opportunities and the realities of this country. Certainly those who came in the 1990s did not count on a recession, and yet they have survived.

By the article that appeared today, I was reminded that our parents’ generation of mainstream churchgoers were dedicated to mission work. My mother sat in her Ladies’ Circle every week hearing about Presbyterian contributions to education and health care in Africa and on the Navajo Reservation. Today, perhaps church circles are devoted to mission work in cities. I would suggest that they – or any other organization concerned about Third World populations – specifically aid recent immigrants from undeveloped parts of the world.

I know there are groups who sponsor Third World immigrants. Often, though, the efforts result in ghetto-like neighborhoods of newcomers who help each other but continue to speak their language and continue to cultivate their “differences.” Sometimes they are put on display through well-intended media coverage or public programs. Even though it may garner financial support, somehow this seems twisted.

In my opinion, it would be far better, if assimilation is the goal, to have sponsoring groups place people temporarily in homes with citizens who are either natives or established immigrants, just as college travel and study abroad programs do. People whose idea of the United States comes mainly from television and movies will experience our patterns of daily living.  Meanwhile, the exchange and distribution of ideas would travel faster, and more of us who have taken “the American dream” for granted would learn how to be global citizens.

We all are on one, big, messy planet. We have to get along together and feel as one people to get it cleaned up.

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