Immigration Reform Is Partly About How Much Poverty to Welcome

Your ominous news flash of the day: The proportion of Hispanic women giving birth outside marriage has settled deeply into majority terrain—53 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

Let’s pause here to note a subtle but important technical point. Because fertility among Hispanic women is so high compared to other groups, the rapid rise in the rate of unwed motherhood among Hispanics exerts disproportionate impact on the family structure of the total population. For example: While the poverty rate among Hispanics is lower than among African Americans (33.8 percent vs 39.5 percent), higher Hispanic birth rates translate into much higher numbers of young Hispanics living in poverty: 5.9 million vs. 3.9 million African Americans.

Over the past two decades, the United States has run an immigration policy that has substantially increased poverty in this country. Two-thirds of immigrant households—that is counting both immigrants and their U.S.-born children—from Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala live in poverty or near-poverty. Other Latin-American immigrant groups fare only a little less badly: more than 50 percent among Salvadorans; just less than 50 percent among Cubans. 

Even long-established immigrants are disproportionately likely to stay poor. Among immigrants (of all origins) who have resided in the United States for longer than 20 years, the poverty rate is 30 percent higher than among the native born (of all races).

As the United States debates an immigration reform that will substantially increase the flow of unskilled immigrants, Americans need to keep in mind that the debate over how much immigration to welcome is also a debate about how much more poverty to accept.