Telles and Ortiz on Mexican-American Integration


Back in 2009, Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz published Generations of Exclusion, product of a detailed longitudinal study of Mexican-American integration that drew on thirty-five years of data:

The study contains some encouraging findings, but many more that are troubling. Linguistically, Mexican Americans assimilate into mainstream America quite well–by the second generation, nearly all Mexican Americans achieve English proficiency. In many domains, however, the Mexican American story doesn’t fit with traditional models of assimilation. The majority of fourth generation Mexican Americans continue to live in Hispanic neighborhoods, marry other Hispanics, and think of themselves as Mexican. And while Mexican Americans make financial strides from the first to the second generation, economic progress halts at the second generation, and poverty rates remain high for later generations. Similarly, educational attainment peaks among second generation children of immigrants, but declines for the third and fourth generations.

Telles and Ortiz identify institutional barriers as a major source of Mexican American disadvantage. Chronic under-funding in school systems predominately serving Mexican Americans severely restrains progress. Persistent discrimination, punitive immigration policies, and reliance on cheap Mexican labor in the southwestern states all make integration more difficult. The authors call for providing Mexican American children with the educational opportunities that European immigrants in previous generations enjoyed. The Mexican American trajectory is distinct–but so is the extent to which this group has been excluded from the American mainstream.

One implication of Telles and Ortiz’s findings is that the U.S. ought to devote more resources to schools serving Mexican Americans, and on less-skilled immigrants and their descendants more broadly, to facilitate economic integration. But of course another approach is to tilt U.S. immigration policy towards immigrants who are likely to earn higher incomes than members of the native-born population.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.