Thursday, February 21, 2008

Study: Uneducated immigrants hurt country

By Emily Bazar, USA TODAY
A study out Thursday focuses on a central question in the immigration debate: Do immigrants help or hurt the USA?
The report by the Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes limiting immigration, argues that the current levels hurt the country. Foreign-born adults have less education than native-born citizens and raise the rates of poverty, welfare use and lack of medical insurance, says Steven Camarota, the center's director of research.

"It doesn't seem the country is all that well served by the current immigration policy," Camarota says. "If you have a legal immigration system that mostly lets people in without regard to education, and you tolerate a lot of illegal immigration, you're going to get a very large share of immigrants who will be very low-skilled."

Critics say the study overlooks immigrant contributions. Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California, says immigrants help the economy by working and buying homes.

"If you don't have workers, you can't grow," Myers says. "Immigrants are making up a huge proportion of that."

The study, an analysis of 2007 Census data, concludes that there are 37.9 million foreign-born residents in the USA. It estimates that at least 11.3 million of those immigrants are in the country illegally.

One of the key findings is that 31% of immigrant adults don't have a high school diploma, compared with 8% of U.S.-born residents.

That is important, Camarota says, because it correlates with high rates of welfare and poverty: 33% of households headed by immigrants use at least one major welfare program such as the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, compared with 19% of U.S.-born households. "It costs a lot of money," he says. "Does it make sense to bring in lots of people who don't have lots of education?"

Myers says the economy needs unskilled labor. "You need some manual workers," he says.

He criticizes the study for ignoring homeownership among immigrants, which he says signals their entry into the middle class.

In the 1990s, foreign-born residents accounted for 21% of the growth in homeowners, he says. This decade, they are 40%.

Angela Kelley, director of the American Immigration Law Foundation's Immigration Policy Center, faults the study for analyzing immigrants at one point in time instead of over a longer period.

Over time, she says, immigrants assimilate and succeed.

"Folks learn English, they buy homes. If given the chance, they naturalize and they intermarry," Kelley says. "That is a story as old as America."

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Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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