Central America Immigrants Integrate Over Time

A policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, compiled data on immigrants from Central America that shows cultural integration through language and job skills over time. What’s more, the rate and level of cultural integration and assimilation for the children of these immigrants increase to a point of becoming near indistinguishable from overall U.S. population.

Cato policy analyst David Bier compiled data specific to Central American immigrants in response to hearing an interview with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The interview, broadcast on NPR stations, included Kelly’s comments on the swelling number of immigrants from the region.

“They’re overwhelmingly rural people,” Kelly said in his remarks. “In the countries, they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English, obviously, that’s a big thing. They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills.”

Bier rebuts each of these contentions in a report outlining the data.

Immigrants’ language abilities: Bier responds that while the vast majority arrive in the United States with virtually no understanding of English, this issue resolves over time. Citing the 2016 American Community Survey, Bier points out “length of residence does appear to result in greater language acquisition, with nearly three quarters knowing English after three decades or more in the United States.

Immigrants’ job skills: Bier examines the contention that immigrants’ lack of job skills suited for a modern economy presents another stumbling block of Central Americans’ ability to weave into the American fabric. “With less than a year in the United States, already nearly half of Central American adults had found employment in 2016,” according to the Cato report. What’s more, employment rate grows as the length of residence in the United States increases. “Those with more than 5 years in the United States had an employment rate of over 70 percent, more than 10 percentage points higher than the rate for all U.S. adults.”

Immigrants’ lack of formal education: While true that around half of Central American immigrants in the U.S. in 2016 held no high school diploma, education levels for the children of immigrants looks drastically different. U.S. born descendants hold around the same number of years of schooling as other Americans.

Immigrant’s lack of integration: While no overall measurement of integration and assimilation exists, Bier points to patriotism as a valid metric. In the Cato report, Bier writes that “to the extent that enlisting in the military reflects a love for country, American adults with Central American ancestry were more than twice as likely to be an active duty member of the military than other U.S.-born American adults.”

Bier concludes the Cato report by noting resolve of Central American immigrants in terms of their overall achievement levels in the face of obstacles as “integration of Central American immigrants is occurring despite the best efforts of the United States government to prevent it.” What’s more, picking up the pace of integration and assimilation can be achieved easily enough through legalized immigration for those without a college degree and then establishing a pathway to citizenship. “These measures would incentivize better integration than criminally prosecuting parents and separating them from their children.”