California: A View of America's Immigration Future

California: A View of America's Immigration Future

With the recent confirmation that immigration enforcement in the country’s interior is all but eviscerated, it is an opportune moment to assess America’s future if its immigration policies–de facto and de jure–remain unchanged. California provides a window into that future, since the transformation unleashed by the last three decades of mass immigration is further advanced there than anywhere else. Nearly 50 percent of all California births are now Hispanic, with the state’s Hispanic population almost equal to the white population.

The consequences of this demographic shift have been profound. In the 1950s and 1960s, the state led the nation in educational achievement. Today, with a majority Hispanic K-12 population and the largest concentration of English language learners in the country, California is at the bottom of the educational heap, barely distinguishable in its national test scores from such economic backwaters as Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. 

Over a third of California eighth graders lack even the most rudimentary math skills; 28% are equally deficient in reading. The mathematics performance gap between Hispanic and white eighth graders has not budged since 1990, while the reading gap has narrowed only slightly since 1998.  

In 2013, Governor Jerry Brown pushed through a controversial law that redistributes tax dollars from successful schools to those with high proportions of English learners and low-income students. It remains to be seen whether this latest effort to close the achievement gap will prove more effective than its predecessors. Working against that possibility is Hispanics’ high drop-out rate–the highest in the state and nation–and their equally unmatched teen pregnancy rate.  

California spends vast sums each year trying to get more Hispanics into college–and keep them there. In 2009 alone, in an initiative to prepare more Hispanics for four-year programs, California spent $100 million on community college students…who then dropped out after their first year. Latino students’ rate of B.A. completion from the University of California and California State University is the lowest of all student groups and has slightly declined in recent years.

California’s economic future depends on attracting, and keeping, top talent. Since 2000, however, more college graduates have exited California than entered it, driven away in part by the high taxes required to sustain public services for the state’s low-skilled residents. Hispanics are the major consumers of government services and welfare. U.S.-born Hispanic households in California use cash welfare, food stamps, and housing assistance at twice the rate of U.S.-born non-Hispanic households. Immigrant welfare use is even higher. Four-fifths of households headed by an illegal Hispanic immigrant, and 61% of households headed by a legal Hispanic immigrant, use at least one welfare entitlement. No wonder Hispanics overwhelmingly favor big government welfare programs, including Obamacare, and the taxation necessary for those programs.

The vast majority of California’s Hispanic immigrants possess an admirable work ethic. They have stabilized some inner-city communities, such as South Central Los Angeles. But thanks to their lack of social capital, many of their children and grandchildren are getting sucked up into underclass culture. The Hispanic out-of-wedlock birth rate in California and the US is 53%–twice what it was in the black population in 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his prescient warning about the catastrophe of family breakdown. The incarceration rate of Mexican Americans in California shoots up eight-fold between the first and second generations, to equal the black incarceration rate. Gang involvement is endemic in barrio schools, giving rise to a vast, taxpayer-supported army of anti-gang counselors serving the children of single mothers.  

The rule of law is severely challenged in California. Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed a flurry of bills expanding illegal aliens’ rights and protections. Hispanics supported the laws, while a majority of whites opposed them. Though the granting of drivers licenses and the right to practice law to illegal aliens received more attention, the most insidious bill bans local jail officials from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. The federal Secure Communities Act requires jail officials to hold an illegal alien criminal when asked to do so by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, in order to give ICE the opportunity to take custody of the alien for possible deportation proceedings. Under California’s new Trust Act, however, local jail authorities must refuse ICE detainer requests for all but the most heinous felons. Your “garden variety” thief, shoplifter, graffiti vandal, drug dealer, or misdemeanor drunk driver must be jealously protected from ICE and allowed to return to the “community” with no worries about possible deportation. (California, apparently, doesn’t have enough criminals already and needs every last one of them.)  

In 2010, illegal immigration advocates loudly protested Arizona’s recently passed immigration statute, SB 1070. That law affirmed the authority of local police officers to inquire into a suspect’s immigration status if they had reason to believe that the suspect was in the country illegally. The Obama Administration characterized SB 1070 as an unconstitutional violation of the federal government’s authority over immigration matters and blocked the law in court. Now that California has passed an actual assault on federal immigration authority, however, the advocates are cheering and the Obama administration is looking the other way. (Of course, the irony is that the Trust Act is almost superfluous, since it’s so hard to interest ICE in the criminals that jail administrators actually do refer to it, as the Center for Immigration Studies recently documented.)  

Finally, there’s politics. The Democratic grip on the state appears unbreakable. California’s policies will likely become even more redistributionist if Latinos don’t start making faster economic and educational progress, predicts Larry Gerston, a political scientist at California State University, San Jose. It would be a mistake to rule such progress out, given Hispanics’ strong work ethic. But for the moment, the state presents a strong argument for shifting the country’s immigration policies towards high-skilled, educated foreigners who will not be a fiscal drain on already overburdened taxpayers.  

Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.