A new report out this week from the Pew Hispanic Center confirms what many observers already suspected about the illegal immigrant population in the United States: It is made up increasingly of intact families and their American-born children. Nearly half of illegal immigrant households consist of two-parent families with children, and 73 percent of these children were born here and are therefore U.S. citizens.
The hard-line immigration restrictionists will, no doubt, find more cause for alarm in these numbers. But they should represent hope to the rest of us. One of the chief social problems afflicting this country is the breakdown in the traditional family. But among immigrants, the two-parent household is alive and well.
Only 21 percent of native households are made up of two parents living with their own children. Among legal immigrants, the percentage of such households jumps to 35 percent. But among the illegal population, 47 percent of households consist of a mother, a father and their children.
Age accounts for the major difference in household composition between the native and foreign-born populations: Immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, tend to be younger, while the native population includes large numbers of older Americans whose children have already left home. But out-of-wedlock births and divorce, which are more common among the native born -- especially blacks, but also Hispanics and whites -- also mean that even young native households with children are more likely to be headed by single women than immigrant households are.
But the greater concern for some opponents of immigration -- legal and illegal -- is the fear that these newcomers will never fully adapt, won't learn English, will remain poor and uneducated, and transform the United States into a replica of Mexico or some other Latin American country. The same fears led Americans of the mid-19th century to fear German and Irish immigrants, and in the early 20th century to fear Italians, Jews, Poles, and others from Eastern and Southern Europe.
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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