[lg policy] What will America stand for in 2050? The US should think long and hard about the high number of Latino immigrants. (fwd)

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Tue Jun 2 21:34:32 UTC 2009

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 29 May 2009 14:41:22 -0400
From: Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com>
Reply-To: Language Policy List <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
To: lp <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
Subject: [lg policy] What will America stand for in 2050? The US should think
     long and hard about the high number of Latino immigrants.

What will America stand for in 2050? The US should think long and hard
about the high number of Latino immigrants.
By Lawrence Harrison
from the May 28, 2009 edition

Palo Alto, Calif. - President Obama has encouraged Americans to start
laying a new foundation for the country – on a number of fronts. He
has stressed that we'll need to have the courage to make some hard
choices. One of those hard choices is how to handle immigration. The
US must get serious about the tide of legal and illegal immigrants,
above all from Latin America.

It's not just a short-run issue of immigrants competing with citizens
for jobs as unemployment approaches 10 percent or the number of
uninsured straining the quality of healthcare. Heavy immigration from
Latin America threatens our cohesiveness as a nation. The political
realities of the rapidly growing Latino population are such that Mr.
Obama may be the last president who can avert the permanent, vast
underclass implied by the current Census Bureau projection for 2050.

Do I sound like a right-wing "nativist"? I'm not. I'm a lifelong
Democrat; an early and avid supporter of Obama. I'm gratified by his
nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. I'm also the
grandson of Eastern European Jewish immigrants; and a member, along
with several other Democrats, of the advisory boards of the Federation
for American Immigration Reform and Pro English. Similar concerns
preoccupied the distinguished Democrat Barbara Jordan when she chaired
the congressionally mandated US Commission on Immigration Reform in
the 1990s.

Congresswoman Jordan was worried about the adverse impact of high
levels of legal and illegal immigration on poor citizens,
disproportionately Latinos and African-Americans. The principal
beneficiaries of our current immigration policy are affluent Americans
who hire immigrants at substandard wages for low-end work. Harvard
economist George Borjas estimates that American workers lose $190
billion annually in depressed wages caused by the constant flooding of
the labor market at the low-wage end.

The healthcare cost of the illegal workforce is especially burdensome,
and is subsidized by taxpayers. To claim Medicaid, you must be legal,
but as the Health and Human Services inspector general found, 47
states allow self-declaration of status for Medicaid. Many hospitals
and clinics are going broke because of the constant stream of
uninsured, many of whom are the estimated 12 million to 15 million
illegal immigrants. This translates into reduced services,
particularly for lower-income citizens.

The US population totaled 281 million in 2000. About 35 million, or
12.5 percent, were Latino. The Census Bureau projects that our
population will reach 439 million in 2050, a 56 percent increase over
the 2000 census. The Hispanic population in 2050 is projected at 133
million – 30 percent of the total and almost quadruple the 2000 level.
Population growth is the principal threat to the environment via
natural resource use, sprawl, and pollution. And population growth is
fueled chiefly by immigration.

Consider what this, combined with worrisome evidence that Latinos are
not melting into our cultural mainstream, means for the US. Latinos
have contributed some positive cultural attributes, such as
multigenerational family bonds, to US society. But the same
traditional values that lie behind Latin America's difficulties in
achieving democratic stability, social justice, and prosperity are
being substantially perpetuated among Hispanic-Americans.

Prominent Latin Americans have concluded that traditional values are
at the root of the region's development problems. Among those
expressing that opinion: Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa; Nobelist
author Octavio Paz, a Mexican; Teodoro Moscoso, a Puerto Rican
politician and US ambassador to Venezuela; and Ecuador's former
president, Osvaldo Hurtado.

Latin America's cultural problem is apparent in the persistent Latino
high school dropout rate – 40 percent in California, according to a
recent study – and the high incidence of teenage pregnancy, single
mothers, and crime. The perpetuation of Latino culture is facilitated
by the Spanish language's growing challenge to English as our national
language. It makes it easier for Latinos to avoid the melting pot and
for education to remain a low priority, as it is in Latin America – a
problem highlighted in recent books by former New York City deputy
mayor Herman Badillo, a Puerto Rican, and Mexican-Americans Lionel
Sosa and Ernesto Caravantes.

Language is the conduit of culture. Consider: There is no word in
Spanish for "compromise" (compromiso means "commitment") nor for
"accountability," a problem that is compounded by a verb structure
that converts "I dropped (broke, forgot) something" into "it got
dropped" ("broken," "forgotten"). As the USAID mission director during
the first two years of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, I had
difficulty communicating "dissent" to a government minister at a
crucial moment in our efforts to convince the US Congress to approve a
special appropriation for Nicaragua.

I was later told by a bilingual, bicultural Nicaraguan educator that
when I used "dissent" what my Nicaraguan counterparts understood was
"heresy." "We are, after all, children of the Inquisition," he added.
In a letter to me in 1991, Mexican-American columnist Richard Estrada
described the essence of the problem of immigration as one of numbers.
We should really worry, he wrote, "when the numbers begin to favor not
only the maintenance and replenishment of the immigrants' source
culture, but also its overall growth, and in particular growth so
large that the numbers not only impede assimilation but go beyond to
pose a challenge to the traditional culture of the American nation."

Obama should confront the challenges by enforcing immigration laws on
employment to help end illegal immigration. We should calibrate legal
immigration annually to (1) the needs of the economy, as Ms. Jordan
urged, and (2) past performance of immigrant groups with respect to
acculturation. We must declare our national language to be English and
discourage the proliferation of Spanish- language media. We should
limit citizenship by birth to the offspring of citizens. And we should
provide immigrants with easy-to-access educational services that
facilitate acculturation, including English language, citizenship, and
American values.

Lawrence Harrison directs the Cultural Change Institute at the
Fletcher School, Tufts University, in Medford, Mass. He is the author
of "The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change A Culture And
Save It From Itself."


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