It is time to change the focus of the U.S. debate over immigration. Competing interests and ideologies have narrowed the issue to the question of how to deal with undocumented workers. While reform of the U.S. immigration system is certainly important, there is a greater challenge. How will the growing population of Hispanics be integrated into U.S. society?
According to U.S. Census figures, an estimated 45 million Hispanics made up 15 percent of the total U.S. population in 2007. Most of them are either legal permanent residents or citizens, and about 60 percent were born in the U.S. Less than 20 percent of Hispanics are undocumented immigrants. Irrespective of their legal status, all have been negatively affected by the discriminatory practices and rhetoric that have resulted from the recent anti-immigrant backlash.
Having already surpassed African-Americans to become the largest minority group in the U.S., Hispanics are now the nation’s fastest growing ethnic population. By 2050, Hispanics are expected to constitute between 24 percent and 29 percent of the total U.S. population. Most of the growth will be the result of births to Hispanic women in the U.S. rather than new immigration. Nevertheless, since the growth until now has been propelled in part by a large wave of recent immigration (documented and undocumented), politicians and policymakers have struggled to confront the challenge squarely.
Regardless of which party wins the presidency and the majority in Congress, given the complex array of interests and ideologies surrounding immigration reform, it may be a long time before the passage of a comprehensive bill.
Aside from that debate, the country needs a national integration policy for documented immigrants that brings together the experience and economic and political will of state and local governments with the private sector and civil society.
While integration of immigrant groups has occurred naturally over time throughout U.S. history, the growing Hispanic population poses a particular challenge—especially because it has been overshadowed by the bitter debate over undocumented immigrants…
Tags: Alexandra Delano, Hispanic immigrants, Immigration, Mexican immigration, Migration Policy Institute, The Politics and Business of Immigrant Integration