Linda Chavez
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Though most opponents of immigration are loath to admit it, at least publicly, they're worried that the huge influx of Hispanics will somehow change America for the worse. And who can blame them for wondering whether the tremendous demographic shift that has taken place over the last few years won't have unintended consequences? In 1970, there were fewer than 10 million Hispanics in the United States; today, there are more than 40 million, thanks largely to the ever-increasing influx of Latin American immigrants. And some estimates predict that by mid-century one out of every three Americans will be of Hispanic heritage.

Call it the browning of America, but what does it really mean? Will the United States become an extension of Latin America, or will the Melting Pot transform Hispanic immigrants into just another American ethnic group similar to the Irish, German, and Italian Americans who are descendants of previous immigrant flows? A study released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau gives reason for optimism that the latter path is more likely.

Although a majority of Hispanic immigrants are low-skilled workers who lack even a high school education, that doesn't necessarily mean they will be consigned to low-wage jobs indefinitely, creating a huge new underclass. Immigrants often make up in their willingness to work hard and sacrifice what they lack in formal skills. The Census Bureau confirms that a great many immigrants are imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit that puts to shame those of us who were born here. In its study of Hispanic Entrepreneurship, the Census Bureau reports that Hispanics are opening businesses at a rate three times faster than the national average. There were almost 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses generating $222 billion in revenue in 2002, the year for which the Census Bureau collected data. And nearly one-quarter of these opened between 1997 and 2002.

Although the study did not differentiate between those businesses started or owned by U.S.-born Hispanics from those run by immigrants, the data suggest this huge increase in Hispanic entrepreneurship is largely the result of increased immigration. The metropolitan Baltimore-Washington area, for example, ranks seventh among areas in the nation with the largest number of Hispanic-owned firms, yet there are few U.S.-born Hispanics among this group. Montgomery County, just outside Washington, D.C., is home to almost 7,500 such businesses, up 30 percent in a five-year period, while Fairfax County in Northern Virginia boasts almost as many.

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Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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