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Immigrants Are Assimilating Quickly, but Mexicans Lag Most, Report Says


Despite rapid growth in the immigrant population, newcomers of the past quarter-century have assimilated more rapidly than their counterparts of a century ago, according to a conservative think tank.

However, the report from the Manhattan Institute indicates that Mexican immigrants are not assimilating as fast as other groups, a difference largely attributed to lack of legal status for many. Undocumented status, in turn, limits access to the means of assimilation.

The report, which uses U.S. Census Bureau data to calculate similarities between native and foreign-born adults in the United States, concluded that the degree of similarity has held steady since 1990 but was low by historical standards.

The report, “Measuring Immigrant Assimilation in the United States” by Dr. Jacob Vigdor, an associate professor of public policy studies and economics at Duke University, introduces a quantitative index  of the degree of similarity between U.S.-born and foreign-born adults. “It is the ability to distinguish the latter group from the former that we mean when we use the term ‘assimilation,’ Vigdor wrote in the executive summary.

In the index, immigrants are categorized by country of origin, date of arrival, age, and place of residence.

“The index reveals great diversity in the experiences of individual immigrant groups, which differ from each other almost as much as they differ from the native-born,” he said. “They vary significantly in the extent to which their earnings have increased, their rate of learning the English language, and progress toward citizenship. Mexican immigrants, the largest group and the focus of most current immigration policy debates, have assimilated slowly, but their experience is not representative of the entire immigrant population.”

In an article for The Boston Globe, Vigdor said many Mexicans do not have much incentive to assimilate because they strongly expect to return home and they can function in Spanish-speaking populations in the United States. In addition, those without legal status lack a path to citizenship and  better jobs.

He said the findings indicate a need to reexamine immigration policy to determine whether low-skilled labor, commitment to naturalization or cultural factors are priorities.

Among groups studied, the assimilation index varied from a low of 13, for those born in Mexico, to a high of 53, for those born in Canada, according to the report.

Regarding Mexican immigrants, the report also said:

  • They “experience very low rates of economic and civic assimilation….The assimilation index shows that immigrants from Mexico are very distinct from the native-born upon arrival and assimilate slowly over time. The slow rates of economic and civic assimilation set Mexicans apart from other immigrants, and may reflect the fact that the large numbers of Mexican immigrants residing in the United States illegally have few opportunities to advance themselves along these dimensions.”
  • They “experience relatively normal rates of cultural assimilation. Recent cohorts of Mexican immigrants have increased their rate of cultural assimilation just as immigrants born in other nations have done.”
  • “Immigrant children born in Mexico are more distinct than immigrant children born in other foreign nations. This distinction is most obvious in terms of comparative naturalization rates, but extends to other dimensions as well. Mexican adolescents are imprisoned at rates approximately 80 percent greater than immigrant adolescents generally.”

For more information, see the Manhattan Institute’s website:

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