The Corner

The Myth of the Socially Conservative Immigrant

You know how Jeb Bush and other immigration enthusiasts are always telling us how conservative immigrants are, how they’re more religious and traditionalist? Appealing to their supposed conservatism is the key, we are told, to getting their votes, if only we would embrace amnesty and mass legal immigration.

There are two problems with this argument: First, there’s a pretty clear consensus that Latin American and Asian immigrants (who comprise 75 percent of all immigrants) and their U.S.-born children do not vote based on social issues, assigning them low priority. Second, immigrants are not particularly conservative. There is a mountain of survey data demonstrating that, in general, Latin American and Asian immigrants and their children are supportive of bigger government and are no more socially conservative than the native-born.

In addition to survey data, there’s another way of assessing the stereotype of the socially conservative immigrant — their abortion rates. If the Jeb Bush storyline is correct, one would expect immigrant women to be significantly less likely to get abortions than the native-born.

They’re not. My colleague Steven Camarota looked at that question, using an extensive survey of women who had undergone abortions.  He found that immigrant woman (ages 15–44) overall have nearly identical abortion rates to natives. But there are relatively few immigrants under 25, where the likelihood to get an abortion is highest; comparing only those over age 25 finds that immigrants actually have a somewhat higher abortion rate.

It only gets worse for the native-born children and grandchildren of Latin American immigrants. Their abortion rate is double that of Latin American immigrants, and more than triple the rate of native-born non-Hispanic whites. The abortion rate for the children and grandchildren of immigrants from Asia is more than double that of U.S.-born whites. Given these dramatically higher rates of abortion, it’s likely the abortion rate will increase as immigration changes the demographic makeup of the population.

The point here is not that immigrants and their children are somehow “bad” because they’re more likely to get abortions. Rather, it’s yet another indication of how hard it will be for Republicans to sell a conservative message — in this case, opposition to abortion — to groups that are likely to be less receptive to it.

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