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Editor's Note: The following letter refers to the article "The Slowing Progress of Immigrants: An Examination of Income, Home Ownership, and Citizenship, 1970-2000" which appeared in the March, 30, 2001, issue of Immigration Daily

Dear Editor:

You recently ran, without commentary, an article about a Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) report alleging that the progress of immigrants arriving in the U.S. during the last decade has slowed. However, evidence supports other findings. For instance, new immigrants are as well, if not better, educated than previous immigrants. The New Immigrant Survey, conducted by the Rand Corporation, found that legal immigrants have 13 median years of schooling, one more year than native-born citizens. While the CIS study relies on preliminary Census information, it does not report one of the major findings of the information: that new immigrants attain college degrees at the same rate as do native-born citizens. In addition, a study released last year by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that the labor market and workforce skills of immigrants compliment those of native-born Americans. As a result, immigrants are filling essential positions in economic sectors currently facing worker shortages.

Even more impressive are the comments of former Census Director Kenneth Prewitt who said that "a very, very big story" from the 2000 Census is that recent immigrants show all the "indicators of someone making a commitment to this country." Prewitt said "new immigrant groups are catching up educationally much more rapidly" than previous immigrants. He also said that "the pace at which new population groups are learning English is accelerating." Prewitt said the homeownership rate among the immigrants of 1990s is accelerating, when compared to earlier groups of immigrants.

The immigrants of the 1990s are making steady, rapid progress, and numerous studies show that the longer they remain here, the better they will do. Meanwhile, newly arrived immigrants have helped the American economy. In fact, the immigrants of 1990s helped sustain that decade's economic boom by alleviating labor shortages caused by low unemployment and worker shortages, starting businesses and expanding job opportunities. While the 1990s saw the largest number of immigrants coming to the U.S., the decade also saw the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 40 years, the lowest poverty rate in 20 years, and the lowest interest rates in nearly half-a-century. In fact, since 1980, the U.S. has created more new jobs than Japan and Europe combined.

CIS interestingly also omits data showing that new and future immigrants are vital to our future economic growth. America has a long-term worker shortage problem, which is hitting the service sector particularly hard. Jobs in essential occupations (semi-skilled and unskilled) are going unfilled. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2008, America will have more jobs than people to fill them. Independent economists report that the worker shortage will last for the next 20 years because it is based on demographics, not just skills training.

This essential worker shortage is predicted to increase, since the BLS estimates that over the next decade 57% of job growth is projected among occupations requiring no education and training beyond high school. Leading economists repeatedly have testified before Congress that the worker shortage poses a threat to future economic expansion. In fact, business executives report that corporations have halted expansion plans due to a lack of workers, and have curtailed services because they do not have enough workers. Economists and business executives alike say that immigration offers one solution to our worker shortage and to our continued economic growth.

It also is important to note that recent immigrants want to become permanent residents and citizens, but millions are caught in INS backlogs. Immigrants applied for legal permanent resident status and citizenship in record numbers during the 1990s; however, the INS backlogs also have skyrocketed during that time, translating into significant delays in people becoming legal permanent residents and citizens. For example: More than 808,000 people currently are waiting to become citizens, and another 1,000,000 are waiting for legal permanent residency, the first step toward becoming a citizen. Obtaining permanent residency or citizenship is a key factor in the ability of immigrants to further improve their economic conditions.

Taken together, the data outlined above suggests that the CIS study misses the mark. Immigrants who entered the United States during the 1990s are as well, if not better, educated than earlier groups, and are learning English and owning homes quicker than previous immigrants. In addition, according to other major indicators, they are expected to do even better the longer they reside in the U.S. Finally, they helped create our economic boom and are crucial to our continued economic vitality.

Sincerely,

Jeanne A. Butterfield
Executive Director
American Immigration Lawyers Association

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