Amnesty Debate Drowns Out Education Talk

April 21st, 2011 at 4:20 pm | 10 Comments |

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On Wednesday, the Brookings Institute hosted a panel on the poor educational attainment of immigrant children entitled “Immigrant Children Falling Behind: Implications and Policy Prescriptions.” Although there was some discussion on the challenges facing immigrant children, the discussion sadly devolved into a debate over the merits and disadvantages of the DREAM Act.

The event started off on a good enough note, to be sure. “If immigrant kids have a problem, then the nation has a problem,” said Ron Haskins, the co-director of the Brookings Center on Children and Families.

The importance of immigration children to the country’s well-being is made plain through demographics, argued several of the panelists. The American population is aging, and immigration is the only thing that can keep the labor force growing, they said.

“At the beginning of the 20th Century, there were 10 children for every senior,” said Brookings demographer Audrey Singer. “By 2030, there will be only 1.2 children for every senior.”

“If it weren’t for immigrant women, children would be even a smaller share of the U.S. population today,” added Marta Tienda of Princeton University. “[Immigration] is the dynamic of growth, it is the reason that the United States, U.K., Canada and Australia are not declining in population like Spain and Italy and Japan.”

Singer also pointed out that the immigrants are making up a larger and larger segment of the child population. In fact, she says, even if immigration were to stop completely today, the United States would have a minority-majority child population by 2050.

The problem is that immigrant children are performing poorly in educational attainment. “Immigrants are overrepresented [in the less than high school education] category,” said Haskins, and education is correlated with income – something that has no doubt contributed to the fact that wages for first and second generation immigrants have been declining since the 1940s.

The key is to invest in these immigrant children – something that could lead to a real economic benefit for the country, argued Marta Tienda.

So what kinds of investments are being proposed to increase the educational well-being of immigrant children, and, arguably, the economic well-being of the country? Haskins and Tienda had recently outlined three suggestions in a policy brief: expand pre-school programs to boost the readiness of immigrant children for public school; improve programs for those learning English as a second language so that they can master it by the second grade; and pass the DREAM Act to boost educational opportunities for undocumented immigrant youth.

But although the event was meant to address a massive social problem, it quickly turned into a debate about whether the DREAM Act should be enacted.

“If you take an investment perspective, rather than, ‘Did you come here legally or not, or were you dragged across when you were three’… anyone who beats the odds and outperforms individuals who have had all the benefits of citizenship throughout their life – there’s something there that we might not be able to measure, but we certainly want to bottle it and capitalize on it,” Tienda said.

Jena McNeill, a homeland security policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, saw it differently. She pointed out that the U.S. had passed a bill granting amnesty to certain illegal immigrants in the hopes that this, combined with better border enforcement, would reduce illegal immigration.

The illegal immigrant population in the United States has risen four-fold since then, she pointed out. In fact, with the lessons she drew from 1986 in mind, McNeill opposes the DREAM act as merely incentivizing more illegal immigration. “Whether it’s a piecemeal amnesty like the DREAM Act or something like a larger earned legalization under a comprehensive bill, it all to me has the impact of encouraging more illegal immigration to the United States,” she said.

Discussion on the DREAM Act is of course interesting and important, but the topic of conversation was disappointing considering that the panel was billed as one that would try and tackle one of society’s most urgent problems.

The parochial focus on a piece of legislation as opposed to the larger problem of immigrant children and their educational attainment is telling – if those who are best positioned to have debates about the immigration system and education are not having the broader discussions, how can the rest of us talk about it intelligently?

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • sinz54

    The first generation of immigrants has NEVER been able to just instantly come up to the standards of native-born Americans. They have to learn English as adults; and they have not yet accepted the American culture. That’s been true even when the immigrants had a decent education before emigrating to America.

    So I don’t know what the shouting is about here. The second and third generation of Hispanic immigrants will gradually enter the American mainstream, just like what happened with Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Jews, etc.

    Hispanic immigrants don’t need any special privileges beyond what these other minorities got (which wasn’t much). They’re in a new country, they have to work harder to catch up to the rest of us. If they don’t feel like working hard, they shouldn’t bother to come here.

    • Smargalicious

      You have your liberal loon blinders on.

      Let me explain it to you.

      What can’t you understand about the term ILLEGAL?

  • JimBob

    Alan Greenspan on Meet the Press last Sunday said that skilled highly educated baby boomers are retiring and they’re being replaced by a very poor unskilled people which doesn’t bode well for the future of the country.

    We are ruing ourselves with immigration.

    • sweatyb

      Alan Greenspan? You think that man’s opinion lends credibility to your statements?

  • footfault

    Without getting into the immigration debate itself, wouldn’t providing students with added incentive to do well in school cause them to do better?

    Author sounds like a dozy student who wants to cheat off the smart kid’s test, then gets upset because he doesn’t like what’s written down on the other paper.

  • Carney

    The racial gap in academic achievement will never go away.

    (East) Asians have an average IQ of 105, whites 100, Hispanics around 90, and African Americans 85. Much of this gap is genetic and thus immutable.

    Yes yes yes there are brilliant blacks and stupid whites just as there are tall women and short men, but the overall average or pattern is clear.

  • Rabiner


    can you prove those numbers? otherwise don’t propagate stereotypes.

  • PatrickQuint

    If the nation has invested in the education of second-generation immigrant citizens, then that resource should be utilized.

    Equality of opportunity helps to bring out the people who deserve success. Education *opportunities* are vital to this. For that reason, I could support the DREAM Act, in principle. I hear that it leaks like a sieve, but it’s a noble idea.

    I don’t know what to make of the argument that it would encourage further illegal immigration. The argument is plausible, but in light of the above considerations it might be worth ignoring.

  • Brittanicus

    If you want to see the 14.5 trillion dollar US deficit reduced, we must enforce our immigration laws. In 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act was a zero-tolerance policy that was subverted by business interests. We cannot afford any more half measures, from the ongoing resistance of politicians like Senator Harry Reid (D-NV in the growing reaching empowerment of the TEA PARTY. Illegal Immigration is an incendiary issue, caused over decades of Washington lack of sympathy to US worker, with estimates of 20 million foreign nationals feeding of the welfare system they have—NOT–attributed too? The worst issue is the instant baby citizenship law, which has become a perpetual foothold for hundreds of thousands of illegal families annually and probably the most fiscally of expenditure for taxpayers. Our overcrowded through k-12 schools are suffering, with hospital emergency rooms not far behind.

    For the price of an airline ticket or dodging the US border patrol they arrive here with many afflictions, knowing from distant dialogue, that American physicians must treat you under the law. Arizona Policing laws (SB1070) subject to rejection by the Supreme Court in the future have dealt a sharp blow to the radical Leftists, that evidence is proving the laws are having a positive effect. Huge numbers of illegal unwelcome persons are moving out to places unknown. Interesting enough that I read an article that even though radical activists are boycotting Arizona in hope of eroding their commerce, the reverse has happened. Average Americans have seen through Obama’s Department of In-Justice and streamed into the State, guaranteeing high concentrations of tourists. The Dept of InJustice elevated by Obama’s Liberal Progressive-Marxist Czars to attack Arizonans policing laws through the mostly Leftists courts, but an intense silence has reigned about Utah’s unconstitutional push for a Guest worker program. Arizona has a high foreclosure rate, but it was caused by the real estate crash, not boycotts. In fact it seems Canadians escaping from the cold weather swept in, brought properties and even my Ex-wife portends to buy a home there.

    So the State of Arizona has made a roundabout turn, and the State is thriving and the populations of economic illegal immigrants are leaving for new turf. With malleable States nearby like Sanctuary California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado this is their final destination. These have been economic aliens and they have already devastated some of the Border States, with public service opportunities. President Obama held a meeting with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Trumka, leader of the AFL-CIO and a host of open border organizations and business lobbyists at the White House.

    Little is known because the conference was closed to the press media, reassured it will lead to a dead end. Their evident reason to be there is to push for a mass amnesty, even at a time when 10 million Americans are still unemployed. Most people have no conception of these ramifications of a full volume amnesty, better dive into the web pages of NumbersUSA or Judicial Watch. You are assured this is only two of a nationwide grassroots revolution of pro-sovereignty entities, whose main issue is the illegal alien occupation. But even more so join a local TEA PARTY because under no circumstances will any kind of amnesty be passed. Only if President Obama successfully is reelected will this matter come up for a vote and the TEA PARTY will fight this pretense tooth and nail. You break the law; you must pay a penalty for it. Another amnesty no matter the fact will just attract more and more foreign nationals across our borders or to our shores. We need to expand the E-verify programs and make it mandatory for businesses and in addition the feds need the same permanency for Secure Communities, to fingerprint every alleged criminal that is processed through police stations.

    The border is a volatile sticking point on illegal immigration, which other than around most cities and towns there is no real fencing. Its still is wide open to the drug cartels, the people smugglers and possible terrorist incursions according to Rancher Jim Chilton as stated this in his testimony. In a letter he drafted and claimed to the Department of Interior (DOI) and U.S. Department of Agriculture conference in Washington, that there was no border fence along 50 miles of his land. It should prove to all Americans, that there really is no serious attempt, to stop the inroad movement of foreign nationals no matter their intent? If there was illegal trespassing on sovereign land would be a felony, like Mexico and other countries.

    Janet Napolitano should take a trip to the ranchers land, and then declare the border was secure. What a sickening joke. One thing is for sure, the promise to the people from the TEA PARTY is that their Senators and Congressman enact bills, to build the Double Layer Fence and restrict any new laws on immigration. Illegal immigration has many financially unexposed branches, that many remain hidden from public view. Importation of less than perfect professional skills is another form of visa fraud as a demand for cheap labor. For years, a million or more semi-skilled labor has been arriving through stealth amnesties. Attn: Our election system has been compromised, as in 4 States voter fraud has been detected from mostly non-citizens, so we must look towards some form of federal and State oversight. Absentee Ballots are the easiest method to cheat the registration system and could cause a massive change of direction for American Democracy.

    [b]And Remember buy AMERICAN. Or soon your job may disappear? Elect Donald Trump! He is a billionaire and owes nobody in either party favors. He will stop the Chinese ripping us off. We owe them just this year 300 Billion dollars. He will negotiate the Free trade Agreements, as they unfair to American industry, draining billions of dollars in inferior goods. It will end Communist Buildup a military on our dollars. He will remove the tax incentives to move businesses into Mexico or overseas such as Maytag. We should give visas to the highest representatives of skilled workers, who will never use welfare, and put the enforcement brakes on impoverished illegal foreigners once and for all.