GOP should remember: Data show immigrants enforce, not threaten, US values
One sticking point in the House GOP discussion of immigration reform is concern over whether immigrants will be productive members of society. Republicans shouldn't worry. Immigrants outperform native-born citizens on key measures of American values and civic engagement.
A comprehensive immigration reform bill has passed the Senate, but it faces dubious prospects in the House, where it probably won’t garner enough of the Republican support needed to bring it to a floor vote. One Republican sticking point is that the prospective law doesn’t go far enough to ensure that immigrants integrate into American society to become productive, contributing members who uphold American values and are civically engaged.Skip to next paragraph
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But there is a rich irony in such concern over whether immigrants will become productive members of society: On several traditional measures of American values and societal productivity, America’s native-born citizens are being outperformed by its immigrants – both legal and undocumented.
Studies show that immigrants applying for citizenship surpass American citizens on tests of knowledge of American history and civics. To take one example, in a 2012 telephone poll, Xavier University researchers found that 35 percent of Americans failed the civics section of the US naturalization test. In contrast, 97.5 percent of immigrants applying for citizenship passed the test in 2012.
The willingness to defend one’s country is generally considered a reliable measure of patriotism. As General George S. Patton once said, “The highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.”
Immigrants have served with distinction in the US military in every major armed conflict since the Revolutionary War. And according to the Center for Naval Analysis, the three-month attrition rate of non-citizen soldiers is nearly twice that of US citizens.
Many thousands of men and women have made the journey from non-citizen immigrant to citizen while fighting, and sometimes dying, in the US military. The Pentagon estimates that roughly 8,000 non-citizens join the military every year, which can be a path to citizenship.
Law abidance is another basic marker of good citizenship. And studies show that both legal and illegal immigrants are less likely than the native born to break the law. That was the conclusion of a 2010 Cato Institute report, which cited a 2008 study by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), the state with the highest number of immigrants. It found that “US-born men have an institutionalization rate that is 10 times higher than that of foreign-born men.”