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University Professor Discusses Immigration Issues in the U.S.

Candace Braun

Alejandro Portes, a sociology professor and director of the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton University, gave a talk last Thursday on immigration and the Hispanic population in the U.S.

The author of 220 articles on national development, international migration, Latin American and Caribbean urbanization, and economic sociology, Mr. Portes addressed a number of statistics on the Hispanic immigration community in the United States, based on data collected in 2002.

Unfortunately, he said, the numbers prove what many experts have feared from past studies: that immigration to the U.S. is continually rising, and that Latin Americans are still among the largest group of low-wage workers in the U.S.

In 2000, there were approximately 3.5 million Hispanics living in the U.S., a 12 percent increase from four years before.

"Hispanics are now a true national presence," he said, adding that Mexicans account for most of the Hispanic population, although Cubans, Dominicans, Salvadorians, and Colombians are also included in that category. Mexicans are also last among nationalities listed in the college graduate population.

Many Hispanics who come over to the U.S. automatically fall to the bottom of the labor market due to their low levels of education, their race, and the language barrier, said Mr. Portes. But while Hispanics continue to stay at the bottom of the work force, Asians appear to continue climbing to the top, as their higher levels of education make them preferable candidates for jobs.

In addition, said Mr. Portes, Asians can't come to the U.S. illegally because they have to cross the Pacific Ocean. But Mexicans continue crossing over the border, and there is no known way to stop it, said Mr. Portes: "If high fences are put up in California....the migration will just continue elsewhere."

It is also difficult to know exactly how many Mexicans even live in the U.S. since experts estimate that in 2001, only 19 percent of Mexican immigrants were legal.

Subhead; The Second Generation

Mr. Portes went over various statistics on second generation immigrants gathered from 2002 data, which he will soon publish in a book, as well as information from his recent book, Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation and Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America. The book has received several awards, including the 2002 Distinguished Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association.

Children of immigrants who settled here usually have as tough a time in the job market as their parents, said Mr. Portes, as they are likely to suffer from poverty, a low education, and overall prejudice.

"Integration is not always a ticket to upward mobility," said Mr. Portes. "The future of immigrant children depends on the class in which they are instituted."

He added that second generation immigrants often end up in jobs similar to their parents, or possibly even fall into a deviant lifestyle that includes teen pregnancies and drug habits. While statistics have shown that between 50 and 77 percent of immigrant youth aspire to attain an advanced degree, only 45 to 55 percent actually obtain it.

Eighty percent of immigrant children receive negative influence in schools, with 65 percent of that coming from friends and peers. In addition, 85 percent of these children have friends whose family's value systems differ from their own, which also causes conflict, said Mr. Portes.

For second generation Mexicans, approximately 38 percent have only a high school degree or less, and suffer from an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent. Mexicans also have the largest number of children, at 41 percent, whereas Colombians and Nicaraguans have less than half that number of offspring.

In addition, 20 percent of male second-generation Mexicans were incarcerated in 2002, compared to only 10 percent of immigrants from other countries.

"Like all parents, Latin American parents want their children to succeed....but it's impossible in many cases," said Mr. Portes.

What the country needs to do to increase the chances of immigrants succeeding here is to legalize immigration, said Mr. Portes.

"The key is to bring immigration above ground, so it can be monitored," he said, which would also help, since these workers could then be taxed, rather than receive their wages under the table.

The U.S. should give immigrants incentives to voluntarily return to their country of origin, and help those who still live here find ways to financially support themselves and their families, said Mr. Portes: "By and large the Hispanic generations want to succeed....they just need help."

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