Immigration Rhetoric Still Lags Behind Reality

Our nation’s immigration debate is stuck in a rhetorical time warp that has yet to catch up with present-day reality, according to Ben Casselman of Much of what we think we know about immigration is outdated, he argues: although immigration demographics have changed in some striking ways, the conventional wisdom has not, and much of that is wrong. [See Immigration is Changing Much More Than the Immigration Debate, by Ben Casselman,, 09.Jul.2014.]

Illegal immigration from Latin America remains the key concern of our immigration debate, Casselman says, notwithstanding the fact that “…most new immigrants aren’t Latinos,” and “most Latinos [in the United States] aren’t immigrants.” The fact is, illegal immigration from Mexico has dropped to record lows, while immigration from other countries has been on the upswing – particularly from China, India, and other Asian countries:

  • “In the past five years, the number of new immigrants (those in the country less than a year) from China has risen 37 percent, to more than 70,000.”
  • The U.S. now gets more immigrants from Asia – 45 percent in 2012 – than from Latin America (34 percent), according to Casselman.
  • “Mexico is still the largest single country of origin for new immigrants, but its lead is shrinking fast: Mexico accounts for 14 percent of all new immigrants, down from 45 percent in 2000. India, meanwhile, now accounts for 12 percent, and China for 10 percent.”
  • These new Asian immigrants generally are “wealthier and better educated – not just compared to other immigrants but also compared to native-born Americans,” the article notes.

This suggests that, rather than obsessing about illegal immigration – which, despite the current crisis on the border, is nowhere near the problem it once was – we should stop refighting the last war, as it were, and begin coming to grips with the challenges we face now, and will face for the foreseeable future: the international competition to attract and keep the world’s best and brightest, particularly in the STEM fields, the intellectual drivers of the innovation economy. One hopes the logic of these long-term trends will have time to sink in before the new Congress convenes in January, and the immigration debate resumes.

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