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Honesty from the Left on Hispanic Immigration By: Heather Mac Donald
City Journal | Friday, October 10, 2008


John McCain and Barack Obama have largely avoided discussing immigration during the presidential campaign. But when it comes to the legal side of the issue, they both seem to support the status quo: an official policy centered around low-skilled, predominately Hispanic immigrants. A forthcoming book shows just how misguided that policy is, especially in light of the nation’s current economic woes. The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies, by Patricia Gandara and Frances Contreras, offers an unflinching portrait of Hispanics’ educational problems and reaches a scary conclusion about those problems’ costs. The book’s analysis is all the more surprising given that its authors are liberals committed to bilingual education, affirmative action, and the usual slate of left-wing social programs. Yet Gandara and Contreras, education professors at UCLA and the University of Washington, respectively, are more honest than many conservative open-borders advocates in acknowledging the bad news about Hispanic assimilation.

Hispanics are underachieving academically at an alarming rate, the authors report. Though second- and third-generation Hispanics make some progress over their first-generation parents, that progress starts from an extremely low base and stalls out at high school completion. High school drop-out rates—around 50 percent—remain steady across generations. Latinos’ grades and test scores are at the bottom of the bell curve. The very low share of college degrees earned by Latinos has not changed for more than two decades. Currently only one in ten Latinos has a college degree.

One hundred years ago, when the U.S. still required a large industrial and agricultural labor force, Hispanics’ lagging educational performance would not have been such a problem. Our current information-based economy is unforgiving to the less-educated, however. When you couple U.S. demographics with the Hispanic education crisis, things look worrisome indeed. By 2025, one in four students nationally will be Latino; in many Southwest cities, Latinos are already about 70 percent of the school population. For the first time in history, the authors observe, the ethnic group with the lowest academic achievement will become the majority in significant parts of the country.

California provides a glimpse of what such changes might mean for America’s economic future. The Center for Public Policy and Higher Education predicts that unless the rate of college matriculation among “underrepresented” minorities (that is, Hispanics) immediately rises, the state will face an 11 percent drop in per capita income by 2020.

Federal, state, and local governments have already spent billions trying to overcome the Latino education gap, with little success. That gap persists in part because of the stigma against academic achievement among many Latino males. Contreras and Gandara recount a typical classroom episode: a boy correctly answered a math question, only to be greeted by chants of “schoolboy, schoolboy” from the other male children, followed by the comment: “Now you think you are smart.”

The Latino Education Crisis pulls no punches in its conclusions: “With no evidence of an imminent turnaround in the rate at which Latino students are either graduating from high school or obtaining college degrees, it appears that both a regional and national catastrophe are at hand.” The United States is well on its way to creating a “permanent underclass,” the authors write. They even have the nerve to discuss the calamity of Latinos’ rapidly rising illegitimacy rate—which now stands at 50 percent. Gandara and Contreras had better get used to being called racists from open-borders supporters, as anyone who dares to point out Hispanic family breakdown can attest.

Some readers may disagree with the book’s policy recommendations—more benefits for illegal immigrants, more spending on social services and schools, more Section-8 housing vouchers, more bilingual education. Such programs have all been tried and have failed miserably. A more common-sensical solution is required. Certainly we should create more schools with an ethic of self discipline and hard work and continue doing everything we can to help Hispanic students succeed. But American immigration policy also needs to change. It should favor educated, skilled foreigners over low-skilled family members of existing immigrants. Law enforcement efforts against illegal immigration—targeting employers especially—must expand.

But however debatable some of the book’s proposals, the evidence it presents for the “grave . . . economic and social consequences” of Hispanic educational failure is overwhelming. No matter who our next president is, The Latino Education Crisis should be required reading in the White House.


Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Her latest book, coauthored with Victor Davis Hanson and Steven Malanga, is The Immigration Solution.


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