Politics & Policy

Here I Stand

Few people have changed their minds on immigration this week, but I'm glad we're talking … in English.

I’m grateful to the collection of writers who took the time to respond to my “The Company You Keep” piece this week. My thanks especially to Ward Connerly for his support. I’ve never known anyone who has greater courage or who has done more in the fight to end racial preferences. I’d also like to thank Stanley Kurtz for his acknowledgement that I have been fighting the good fight on a number of fronts for decades, even if we still disagree a bit on what the numbers show. Now to the substance of the other replies: First, I didn’t call anyone on NRO a racist, not even Derb, who has called himself one. If the first rule of debating should be “Never call your opponent a racist,” its corollary should be “Never pretend you’ve been called a racist when you haven’t.” I simply said, not as eloquently or at such great length as William F. Buckley in his “In Search of Anti-Semitism,” that sometimes it doesn’t matter what’s in your heart, but rather what you say, how you say it, and the way your words may give aid and comfort to those whose motives are far worse.

Heather’s Numbers

Second, I am glad that Heather Mac Donald starts every media interview with the disclaimer that “Hispanics are enormous assets to their communities and the United States.” In fact, her NPR interview went further. She said, “there’s no question that many, many Hispanic immigrants [who] come into this country, including illegally, are an extraordinary asset to communities. They’re turning communities around. They’re precisely the type of Americans that we want.” But of course one can search everything she’s written on the subject of Hispanics and find no such broad disclaimer on the printed page. Maybe she will, as I urged, bring some balance to her future reporting. I look forward to it. But let’s go to the stats she uses to defend herself and prove her further claim that “an equally undisputable fact is that the second and third generation of those immigrants are getting sucked into underclass culture.”

She continues to argue that half of all Hispanics in the U.S. drop out — going so far as to quote the Chicano Studies Research and Faculty Center at UCLA to prove her point — let me try once again to explain the fallacy. Virtually any statistic about the Hispanic population that does not disaggregate the foreign-born from the U.S.-born will overstate achievement for the foreign-born, while understating it for the U.S.-born, because one out of every two adult Hispanics was born outside the U.S. When it comes to education, the aggregate calculations are particularly off base.

I’ll explain. Let’s say you have a sample of 100 people, 50 of whom were born in the U.S. and have completed high school (remember, 86 percent of young, second-generation Hispanics have completed high school, along with 89 percent of third-generation Hispanics, according to the Current Population Survey). For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assign them all 12 years of schooling (it’s actually higher). Now let’s look at the foreign-born Hispanic population. More than half of the Mexicans (who are the bulk of this population, even with the large inflow of Central Americans) haven’t completed high school. Let’s say they all have seven years of schooling, but, remember, most have never attended an American school because they came here after their schooling was complete in Mexico, El Salvador, or wherever. If we lump these two groups together — as every study Mac Donald cites does — we come up with an average “drop-out” rate of 50 percent and an education attainment of 9.5 years of schooling. The figures are meaningless in understanding what is really going on with school-completion rates for second- and third-generation Hispanics, yet Mac Donald continues to use them to prove her theory that these U.S.-born Hispanics are doomed to failure.

As for the local studies she cites — local school districts are notoriously bad at tracking drop-out rates. My oldest son left the District of Columbia public schools after tenth grade. He’d be counted as a “drop-out” in many studies, despite having graduated from high school and, later, college in Maryland. School districts don’t have the resources to track what happens to those who leave school in one place but continue their education elsewhere. The best source of information on school completion for Hispanics (and the rest of the population) remains the yearly March Current Population Survey and the decennial census, which ask questions about nativity so that you can disaggregate the numbers. Advice to Mac Donald: Forget about methodologically suspect local studies and start looking at the CPS if you want accurate numbers.

Now for Mac Donald relying on the UCLA Chicano Studies Center study — surely you jest, Heather. As I wrote in 1991 in Out of the Barrio and have repeated endlessly since, the power brokers in the Hispanic community (self-appointed, by and large) use such statistics to argue for more government programs — which aren’t needed and do more harm than good: “[F]or the past two decades, Hispanic leaders have convinced politicians and policy makers that Hispanics want and deserve special treatment — everything from bilingual education for Spanish-speaking children to protected status at the polls for Latino adults — and that they require protection from an alien, Anglo society in which they cannot compete. In doing so, these leaders have enhanced their own power, but their methods jeopardize the future integration of Hispanics into this society.” There’s been some improvement on the bilingual-education front, thanks to the efforts of groups like my Center for Equal Opportunity and state ballot initiatives replacing bilingual programs with English immersion in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts, as well as several school districts elsewhere.

As for making “an argument for a Latino passion for educational achievement, with [or without] a straight face,” as Mac Donald invites me to do, I have, in fact, warned that Hispanics often promote a strong work ethic at the expense of educational achievement, especially when it comes to earning four-year degrees. Hispanic labor-force participation rates are terrific (a point Mac Donald ignores), but too many U.S.-born Hispanics fail to continue their education past high school. As I pointed out in a column syndicated by the Washington Post in 2000, “Hispanics’ decision not to continue their education is more likely a voluntary and conscious one, which reflects a value system that places a priority on family advancement, even at the expense of individual achievement.” Hispanics go to work, pool their resources with other family members to buy a house or open a business, but their actions may depress individual advancement in the process. In this regard, Hispanics are like Italians, who took more than 60 years to catch up to other Americans in education attainment, as I and others have pointed out.

I’m not sure what more I can say about Mac Donald’s assertion, “In Los Angeles, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for homicide (which total 1,200 to 1,500) target illegal aliens. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants (17,000) are for illegal aliens.” The police don’t collect information on the immigration status of those wanted for crimes — period. Mac Donald can continue to believe what she chooses, but she looks both stubborn and foolish in the face of irrefutable evidence that the number has no empirical validity.  If she had done her homework, she could have found statistics on Los Angeles that support her contention that Hispanics are committing more than their share of crimes (though it would not support her contention that illegal aliens are involved in most of these). For example, in May 2002, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (see below for an explanation of the database)  reports that of 36 defendants charged (not convicted) with murder, 24 were Hispanics — roughly two thirds in a county whose population is about half Hispanic; but blacks were charged with a third of murders, though they represent just under 10 percent of the population.

As for her analogy between homicides in L.A. and Milwaukee, she asserts, “In 2005, 20 of 23 suspects wanted on homicide or attempted homicide in Milwaukee, for example, were Hispanic — that, in a city with a miniscule Hispanic population compared to L.A.” Again this factoid is taken at face value, this time from one news story in the Milwaukee Sentinel. It isn’t clear where the Milwaukee Sentinel gets these numbers; like Mac Donald, the article gives no source. There are few databases, local or national, which include ethnicity (versus race) in the criminal-justice arena. One of the only reliable samples is produced by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Felony Defendants in Large Urban Areas,” which assesses data for one month, weighting the sample for increased accuracy. In the top 75 counties in the U.S. in 1998, 22.7 percent of the criminal defendants being held on murder charges were white; 55 percent were black; 18.7 percent were Hispanic; and 3.7 percent were listed as “other.” These numbers are not broken down by nativity or immigration status; however, the Hispanic numbers are somewhat higher than Hispanics’ proportion of the total population, which is 14.4 percent. The comparable data on murders in Milwaukee for 1998, broken down by the ethnicity of the defendant charged in May (the month included in the BJS analysis) were 20 murders, for which 17 blacks were charged, 3 “others,” and no Hispanics. I suppose it’s possible that over the next seven years, Hispanics in Milwaukee started committing more murders. But does anyone who knows anything about race and crime think it plausible, given the demographics of the city (with blacks accounting for 37 percent of the city’s population and Hispanics 12 percent,) that Hispanics committed 20 out of 23 murders and blacks committed fewer than 3?

I am sorry Mac Donald finds debating me so “unpleasant”; I’ve offered to debate her at the Manhattan Institute, just as I’ve offered to debate Robert Rector at Heritage, or anywhere else they choose. But, I’ve been turned down each time. Having debated virtually everybody who is anybody on the Left, from Angela Davis to Jesse Jackson (numerous times) to Gloria Steinhem, I am disappointed my colleagues on the Right aren’t game. But the offer still stands.

Mark My Words

One thing I can say for Mark Krikorian is that he has debated me, many times — as has Dan Stein, his counterpart at FAIR. Now Krikorian surely knows that my information about FAIR, CIS, et al. doesn’t come from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Again, Out of the Barrio deals with these groups and my experience with John Tanton, the founder of FAIR, CIS, and other immigration restriction groups, in some depth, and it was written in 1991, long before the SPLC started its own crusade. My knowledge of these organizations comes firsthand: both from my work at U.S. English and from the many hours I spent with Tanton. I quit U.S. English when I discovered he had written a memo in 1986 bemoaning: “Can homo contraceptivus compete with homo progenitiva if borders aren’t controlled. Or is advice to limit ones [sic] family simply advice to move over and let someone else with greater reproductive powers occupy the space? . . . On the demographic point: perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!” Tanton also objected to the immigrants who were coming in the 1980s on religious grounds, pointing out that most Hispanics and Asians were Catholic — of course, in addition to reflecting bias, the statement is wrong. Asians are rarely Catholic and an increasing number of Hispanic immigrants are evangelical Christians. Dan Stein, calls my quitting “hysterical.” Virtually the entire advisory board of the organization, including Walter Cronkite, Alistair Cooke, Jacques Barzun, and Norman Podhoretz followed me out the door and Tanton was forced to step down. U.S. English today has no affiliation with Tanton or FAIR, for good reasons. Stein’s venom speaks for itself. Readers interested in reading an earlier exchange with Stein on this issue, in which he strikes quite a different pose, can find it on CEO’s website.

I’m glad to know Krikorian’s views on everything from abortion to guns — but it doesn’t answer my claims that the organization he heads is in the immigration debate because its founders and many of its current leaders and supporters want fewer people living in the United States. They want to reduce U.S. population back to what it was in 1950 — would they also care to have a standard of living comparable to 1950? Would most Americans?

Turning now to John Derbyshire, he seems to think “52 percent of Hispanics consider themselves as belonging to The Race [La Raza]” based on my noting that a plurality of Hispanics, 48 percent, cite “white” as their racial identity. As the Derb knows perfectly well, a plurality is the largest number among various alternatives. In the study I cited, the number who identify themselves as belonging to “another race” (other than white or black) — not La Raza, as Derbyshire implies — was 42 percent, not 52 percent. Most foreign-born Hispanics, as Michael Radu rightly points out, identify themselves not as Latinos or Hispanics but by their national origin — which is born out in studies of identity, as in this one by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Fund. But among Hispanics who are third generation (or higher), 57 percent use “American” as the first or only term to describe themselves. Granted 21 percent of this group still prefer to identify themselves exclusively or primarily by ancestry and another 20 percent as Hispanics or Latinos — which I don’t particularly like, but this number is not beyond attenuating over time, especially as they intermarry.

I’m glad Ramesh Ponnuru accepts my apology, even if he thinks it’s half-hearted. And I even hold out hope that John Derbyshire will come around to understanding why ethnicity and race are not proper bases on which to determine immigration policy. In the meantime, since he admits he doesn’t know any Mexicans, I’d be happy to introduce him to a few. He can come down to rural Virginia, where I live most of the time, or Colorado, California, or Texas where I am the rest of the time (not in an “elite Washington think tank existence” as Mac Donald asserts), and I’ll round up a few Mexican friends, cook up some frijoles and enchiladas — my culinary talents being all that’s left of my ethnic roots — and we’ll talk. In English, of course.


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