As the Florida Senate gets ready to vote on its immigration-enforcement bill S.B. 2040 a report released Monday indicates that the most recent last wave of immigrants to the U.S. is integrating reasonably well.
A Migration Policy Institute report (.pdf) analyzes five dimensions of integration: language proficiency, socioeconomic attainment, residential locale, political participation and social interaction.
The report highlights that immigrant integration in the United States has “unfolded almost entirely without the help of policy intervention.”
In the early 20th century there was a proactive approach to integration, with Americanization programs coordinated by public and private organizations. In the current immigration wave, refugees are the only category of immigrants to benefit from a coordinated integration policy.
Despite the movement for restrictionist attrition through enforcement legislation, some local and state governments have enacted efforts to actively integrate lawful permanent residents. At the federal level the Bush Administration created an Office of Citizenship within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
But overall, immigrant integration in the U.S. since the 1920s takes place through a laissez faire approach that relies on an immigrant’s motivation, economic expansion and a robust public education system.
The Policy Institute report indicates that this approach has worked, but now its functionality may be threatened because of the precarious state of public education and the economic downturn combined with immigration policies that leave one third of immigrants in an unauthorized status.
“A large number of unauthorized immigrants live social and economic lives that are well rooted in the United States,” the report states.
The legal status of immigrants has a substantial impact on the socioeconomic quality of their lives. The undocumented have far less access to lawful salaries, job safety and health insurance.
Legal status also has a negative impact on integration of 1.5 million immigrants under 18 years of age. Federal law allows them to attend public school through high school, but only a small number of high school graduates will have access to higher education.
Today’s immigrants come primarily from Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean. “Whereas eight of the top ten source countries of immigration were European in 1960, none of the top ten source countries are European in the contemporary period,” indicates the Policy Institute report.
Current immigrants come from a very diverse across socioeconomic background. Some are wealthy and well educated while others are among the poorest and least educated. Asians and Europeans account for the former while Latin Americans account for the latter.
According to the report immigrants are also no longer settling in traditional gateway states like California, New York, Illinois, Florida and Texas but have been moving into Midwest and Southeastern states with low immigrant presence in the past.
The study concludes: “The flexibility to re-imagine what it means to be American is perhaps the United States’ greatest asset in bringing about successful integration.”