As immigrants and their descendants become integrated into U.S. society, many aspects of their lives improve, including measurable outcomes such as educational attainment, occupational distribution, income, and language ability, but their well-being declines in the areas of health, crime, and family patterns, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. At the same time, several factors impede immigrants' integration into society, such as their legal status, racial disparities in socio-economic outcomes, and low naturalization rates.
"Integration is a twofold process that depends on the participation of immigrants and their descendants in major social institutions such as schools and the labor market, as well as their social acceptance by other Americans," said Mary Waters, M.E. Zukerman Professor of Sociology at Harvard University and chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report. "The U.S. has a long history of accepting people from across the globe, and successful integration of immigrants and their children contributes to our economic vitality and a vibrant, ever-changing culture." There are 41 million immigrants and 37.1 million U.S.-born children of immigrants in the United States today. Together, the first and second generations account for one-quarter of the U.S. population.
In comparison with native-born Americans, the report says, immigrants are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and all cancers, and they experience fewer chronic health conditions, have lower infant mortality and obesity rates, and have a longer life expectancy. However, over time and generations, these advantages decline as their health status converges with that of the native-born population.
Other measures of individual and community well-being show the same pattern, the committee found. Neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence than comparable nonimmigrant neighborhoods. Foreign-born men age 18-39 are incarcerated at one-fourth the rate of native-born American men of the same age. However, in the second and third generations, crime rates increase and resemble that of the general population of native-born Americans.
Similarly, immigrant divorce rates and out-of-wedlock birth rates start off much lower than native-born Americans, but over time and generations, they rise toward those for native-born families. This indicates that immigrant and second-generation children across all major ethnic and racial groups are more likely to live in families with two parents than are third-generation children. Because single-parent families are more likely to be impoverished, this is a disadvantage going forward, the report says.
The committee also identified several measurable outcomes for which immigrants' well-being improves as they become better-integrated in U.S. society:
It is a political, not scientific, question of whether the U.S. should try to prevent the integration of undocumented immigrants or provide a path to legalization, and thus not within the panel's purview. However, the committee identified three barriers to immigrant integration that are of particular concern. First is the role of legal status in slowing or blocking the integration of not just the estimated 11.3 million undocumented but also their citizen children. A range of laws regarding undocumented immigrants at local, state, and federal levels often contradict each other, creating variation in integration trajectories across the country. For example, some states and localities provide in-state college tuition to public universities for undocumented immigrants or provide driver's licenses, while others prohibit renting housing to this class of immigrant.
Second, patterns of immigrant integration are shaped by race, and there is ongoing racial stratification in socio-economic outcomes for immigrants and their children. Black immigrants and their children are integrating with non-Hispanic whites at the slowest rate, despite black immigrants' relatively high educational attainment and employment rates. Last, the low percentage of immigrants who naturalize -- only 50 percent -- compared with other immigrant-receiving countries has negative implications for political and civic integration.
The report includes several recommendations for data collection, including the addition of a question on the birthplace of parents in the American Community Survey and the addition of a question on legal status at entry or at present to the Current Population Survey. It also recommends that any future legislation to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants include a survey of applicants and follow-up to understand the effects of legalization and that administrative data held by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on visa type be linked to census and other government data as other countries have done. Such data should be made available to researchers in secure data enclaves.
The report can be found at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/21746/the-integration-of-immigrants-into-american-society
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