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Opinion

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.

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Overall, the PPIC researchers found that American-born adult men are two-and-a-half times more likely to be incarcerated than foreign-born men, including both legal and illegal immigrants. The Cato report cites Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson, who in 2006 concluded that immigrants have not increased crime in America, and that they could actually be part of the reason why crime has decreased so much.

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Religiosity is also a traditional American value. In his book “Democracy in America,” Alexis De Tocqueville wrote: “Religion in America ... must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country.” Legal immigrants are more religious than native-born Americans. The most important recent shift in religious observance has been the rise of the “nones” – those with no religious affiliation, whose share of the adult population reached 20 percent in 2012, according to the Pew Forum. In contrast, a May 2013 Pew Form survey found that only 14 percent of legal immigrants are religiously unaffiliated, a share that has remained relatively stable over many years.

Also, as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush pointed out in a recent speech, immigrants’ families are more likely to be intact than those of native-born Americans. According to the Census Bureau’s most recent data, 39 percent of births to native-born Americans are to unwed mothers, while just 24 percent of births to foreign-born mothers are out of wedlock.

In many cases, native-born Americans aren’t doing as well in school as the children of recent immigrants. A February Pew Research Center survey found that immigrants’ children are more likely than the general population to have a bachelor’s degree (36 percent to 31 percent). The report also found that “second-generation Hispanics and Asians place more importance than does the general public on hard work and career success.”

Finally, native-born Americans start fewer businesses than immigrants. In fact, they were half as likely as foreign-born Americans to start a new business in 2011.

According to the Pew Research Center, 46 percent of Americans believe “the growing number of newcomers threaten traditional American values.” But the data show otherwise. Newcomers reinforce – not undermine – American values.

Daniel Allott is a writer in Washington, D.C.

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