The MSM and Immigration

If you thought, like Matt and Mickey Kaus, that Dan Balz's "news analysis" was the sine qua non of mainstream media mindlessness on immigration, I invite you to consider Nathan Thornburgh's "case for amnesty" in Time Magazine - the most embarrassing venture in fact-free sanctimony I've read in some time. Not because there isn't a case to be made for amnesty, but because such a case - particularly coming from an ostensibly nonpartisan publication like Time - would need to actually address some of the arguments on the other side, and at least pretend to a knowledge of the actual contours of the immigration debate. (It might also help if the author didn't draw nearly all his examples from a single town: Beardstown, Illinois.)

I'll confine myself to sniping at a few passages.

Yes, it's true: Mexicans speak Spanish. Relax. Mexicans also know that English is the key to getting ahead in the U.S. When Beardstown opened a bilingual program for all the kids in the elementary school, Hispanic parents were as worried as white parents about missing out on an English-only education. Assimilation is slow, but it is inevitable. Beardstown was settled in the 19th century by unapologetically German immigrants, but you won't hear so much as a gesundheit uttered there today. What is lacking, in Beardstown as in Washington, is faith in America's undimmed ability to metabolize immigrants from around the world, to change them more than they change the U.S.

Hmmm ... could there be any reason to think that the trajectories of German immigrants and Mexican immigrants might turn out somewhat differently? Of course not - assimilation is "inevitable"! All you need is "faith"! As Beardstown goes, so goes the nation!

In one sense, Thornburgh undersells his case: If he'd produced statistics rather than anecdotes, he could have found evidence that immigrants from Mexico are making progress in education, English-acquisition, and intermarriage that matches the gains made by earlier generations of immigrants. The trouble is that you need a lot more education to compete in today's economy than you did in the economy of 1887 or 1921, which is why Mexican-Americans can make bigger strides than did, say, Italian-Americans in the 19th century, and still find themselves further behind, in socioeconomic terms, than that earlier generation did. Which explains, in turn, why so many second and third-generation Mexican-Americans are growing frustrated with the slow pace of socioeconomic progress and assimilating downward, toward underclass rather than middle-class norms. Thus crime rates, while low for new immigrants, are high for their children and grandchildren; thus, too, the use of welfare programs remains nearly as high in the second Mexican-American generation as in the first.

But that's all too complicated for Thornburgh - as is any serious analysis of the economics of immigration:

The economics of immigration remain a mysterious science. Everyone has a pet study proving immigration suppresses wages or it builds economies. A less malleable truth is that many towns, like many companies, are faced with a stark choice in the global economy: grow or die. So Beardstown is growing, a healthy economy surrounded by dying rural towns. The U.S. is in the same situation. For all the stresses of immigration, it is the only industrialized nation with a population that is growing fast enough and skews young enough to provide the kind of workforce that a dynamic economy needs. The illegals are part of the reason for that, and amnesty ensures that competitive advantage.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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