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America’s Tiger Immigrants

There’s a WRM piece in the Wall Street Journal out today about the likely impact of the latest big wave of immigrants to reach the United States. The main takeaway: immigration in this country is not what you think. Immigrants from Asia have now replaced immigrants from the Spanish speaking world as the largest source of new immigrants, and the Asians tend to be well educated, well skilled, and when they get here they do very well.

The conventional picture is of an unstoppable wave of unskilled, mostly Spanish-speaking workers—many illegal—coming across the Mexican border. People who see immigration this way fear that, instead of America assimilating the immigrants, the immigrants will assimilate us. But this picture is both out of date and factually wrong.


A report released this month by the Pew Research Center shows just how much the face of immigration has changed in the past few years. Since 2008, more newcomers to the U.S. have been Asian than Hispanic (in 2010, it was 36% of the total, versus 31%). Today’s typical immigrant is not only more likely to speak English and have a college education, but also to have come to the U.S. legally, with a job already in place.

Read the whole thing. America’s extraordinary ability to attract talented people from all over the world remains one of our greatest national strengths, and this latest wave of immigrants is one of the factors that keeps me optimistic about America’s potential in the 21st century.

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  • An

    Many on the right, such as myself, welcome the legal immigration of skilled aliens, and those poorer immigrants who apply through the process legally. We are baffled why it takes years for those who do the right thing and apply and wait for a green card, while those who just hop across the border get special privileges and are protected by the political classes (of both parties).

    Americans are fair people, we have the most generous and open immigration policy in the world. Only when people take advantage of our generosity and disrespect our laws, do we firm up. For example, in 1986, Americans granted amnesty to 3 million illegals and were rewarded with 11 million more illegal immigrants.

    One of things that get my blood boiling is the fact that the political class, activists, academia, and the media claim that the previous waves of immigrants were similar to the Hispanic wave of today. This is simply not true. The original wave of settlers from what is now the UK were immensely talented and skilled. Even the Scotts-Irish who were looked upon as rednecks by the New England colonies were not from the poor, but from the middle class. Back then the cost of crossing the Atlantic was roughly a year’s wage, a sum that the poor simply could not come up with. Albion’s seed by David Hackett is a great book to read to see the origins of American culture. In later waves of immigration such as the great German of the mid-19th century brought middle class immigrants with skills Americans did not possess. Think of companies such as Bausch & Lomb and Anheiser-Busch (before they were bought by the Brazilians), these were founded by German immigrants. In my recollection, only the Irish are comparable to the Mexican immigration with masses of unskilled and poor workers. Even the Italians were more skilled than the average American. The people who worked the most dangerous jobs such coal mines were not immigrants, but mostly poor Americans.

    My point is America needs to move away from a race based immigration policy, which is the platform of most immigration “activists.” This is not just beneficial to our country, but it fits with our tradition of immigration.

    One more thing, I hate using the term Hispanic. If you want to start a bar fight in Brazil, let it be known that you think a Brazilian and Argentinian is one and the same. Only in America is hispanic even used. Everyone recognizes Italy and Germany as two distinct cultures. Why can’t we give the same consideration to those of Spanish speaking countries and from continental Asia. Are the Chinese and Vietnamese just “asians,” even thought they have distinctly different languages based, and have fought 17 wars in the past 4000 years. (the Vietnamese language is Indo-European with 26 letters of which only 2 are different from English.)

    If we stopped grouping everyone from Central and South America as “Hispanic,” you will truly see the diversity and benefits of immigration. Our problems of the past 70 years is mostly a Mexican and central America problem. The “hispanic” immigrants from Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, and strangely enough, Peru, are more on par with the Asian immigrants WRM mentioned, than their Mexican counterparts. The average incomes of the immigrants of the countries I mentioned are closer to white Americans than the Mexicans and Guatemalans.

    In addition to basing immigration on skill instead of race and family (other than reuniting intermediate family) like we do now, Americans should be more lenient to those countries that send us good immigrants. Both parties are totally missing the boat right now. We have an opportunity to steal all the brightest minds and hardest working people from BOTH South America and Europe!

    Right now we should waive most visa requirements for immigrants with college degrees from Colombia, Chile, et al. I would even go one step further and grant a green card to any Colombian or Chilean who has cash in the bank (say $60,000 to cover a 2 years living expenses) and a job.

    The unemployment rate for the young in Spain is over 25%, why the hell are we not poaching the smart ones? This is a once in a generation opportunity with Europe’s financial crisis where we can grab the best of the best from Spain, Italy, Greece, France.

  • Luke Lea

    ‘America’s extraordinary ability to attract talented people from all over the world remains one of our greatest national strengths, and this latest wave of immigrants is one of the factors that keeps me optimistic about America’s potential in the 21st century.’

    Ptui! Mindless repetition of a mindless mantra. We have a boundless ability to attract anybody, the talented and the untalented alike. They come for the money. As to whether it is good for the countries they leave behind — why, we don’t even think about that. I say let’s call a halt to mass immigration until we’ve had time to assimilate the 30 to 40 million we already have, who come from non-Western societies with no traditions of civil liberties or democratic traditions. Our culture hangs in the balance. Enough of mindless paeans to diversity. Diversity is weakness.

  • Luke Lea

    In the case of China it is a lot of crooks who are escaping with their loot.

  • soren

    “No Country on earth is in the same league as the U.S. when it comes to the quantity of immigrants who have come here and the quality of their contributions. But lately, in our generally sour mood, Americans have been questioning the benefits of immigration. ”

    The little people have a right to question these benefits when the elite make absolutely no distriction in the types of immigrants coming here.

  • World Traveler

    1. This is the silver lining to the immigration mess, which has been hijacked by the unskilled, uneducated, illegal and unassimilable from Latin America for the last 30 years. Skilled and legal immigrants, from Asia, Europe, Africa or elsewhere, are a national treasure and an essential pillar of our future economic strength and prosperity. I am glad to see WRM extending the debate to them.

    2. However, I feel that WRM is overly optimistic here. Just walk around any city/town/agro- or industrial site in the county, and you will see many, many more Hispanic (and usually illegal) immigrants than Asians. I am deeply skeptical of the numbers (where are they coming from? how accurate are they, really?) that claim Asians are now immigrating in greater numbers than Hispanics. Personal experience across the country, sadly, does not bear this out — nor do signs (and TV/radio stations) increasingly in Spanish, or politicians increasingly backing from any calls to enforce immigration laws in a desperate attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters (all of 8% of the electorate…).

    3. Just as Asian (and other) skilled immigration is good for the reason it has a positive (+) impact on human capital, education levels, per capita income, and the US workforce’s ability to compete in a global economy, so does Latin American (and other) unskilled and illegal immigration have a negative (-) impact on the primary indicators of quality of life. As we give necessary dues to skilled immigration, we need to maintain the distinction between skilled and unskilled immigration — and encourage the first while discouraging the second without sentimentalizing or nostalgizing immigration qua immigration.

    4. Finally, a technical correction to the article. After comparing current Asian immigration favorably to previous waves of European immigration for their shared mix of skill levels, WRM says, “It resembles earlier waves of educated and already urbanized immigrants more than the desperate and often unskilled rural groups from Europe and Latin America.”

    This is confused, and wrong. What are the “desperate and … rural groups from Europe” of which he speaks? Wasn’t WRM just saying that Asian immigration includes a mix of skill levels, like European immigration once did (European immigration today is demonstrably even more skilled overall than Asian immigration)? Why then go and claim that European immigration was somehow unskilled, as is most Latin American immigration? Just to keep the PC minders at bay by claiming “OK, let’s pretend the negative aspects of our Latin American-driven mess is driven by other places as well, and that way we can hint at the truth without being labeled as ‘racist'”?

    Let’s please start calling spades spades, stop playing the PC-appeasement games, and maybe if we’re honest about the goals and facts of immigration we’ll finally be able to have an immigration policy that acts in the interests of Americans and our country.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @World Traveler: I’m not quite sure what special quality of vision you have that allows you to discern at a glance that a particular person is both an immigrant and illegal. As for the question of European immigrants being desperate, rural and largely unskilled, think of illiterate, starving Irish peasants during the potato famine. Think of Italian peasants thrown off the land by hunger and rapacious landlords. A European population explosion combined with a rural labor surplus as new farming techniques reduced the need for unskilled labor on the land was largely responsible for the huge waves of 19th and early 20th century immigration to the US. That’s pretty much the same force that drove rural Blacks north in the early 20th century, Puerto Ricans to the US in the middle of the 20th century, and the larger Hispanic wave that appears to be receding a bit now.

  • Anthony

    WRM, Wall Street Journal piece for all intents and purposes reads as a concise and generally balanced synopsis regarding U.S. immigration (with historical symbols – Max Weber – and examples – Albert Gallatin). WRM, your WSJ piece has me asking what’s truly responsible (public perception) for softening immigration views of the other (foreigner) – “immigration from Asia wasn’t always this smooth.”

  • peterike

    Sheer globalist nonsense. Great, Asian immigrants are hard working and have higher IQs than Hispanic immigrants. Peachy. They also have an enormous culture of corruption, nepotism and graft, far more so than Western societies. They are indifferent to the environment and cruel to animals. Cheating and deceit are a way of life to them. They are more cultural acid dissolving the bonds of American society, or what little is left of it.

    So spare me the naive hosannas about the “Tiger immigrants.” Mass Asian immigration is just another demographic disaster for America.

  • Walter Sobchak

    What has impeded the enforcement of the United States’ borders is the fact that our elites see Hispanic immigrants and think: “My Gardener”. Wait until the find out what the Asians are going to do tho their kids chances of getting into an Ivy league college, anti-immigrant petitions will go door to door in Scarsdale, Newton and Chevy Chase.

  • gringojay

    UK political correct press uses the term
    “asian” to refer to Pakistani muslims & even many times for their look alike co-religionists whenever one of those immigrants hits the news.
    USA’s 1800’s history of Chinese labor force
    makes “asian” associated more with an epicanthic eye fold.
    Nowadays in Dearborn Michigan the epicanthic eyed immigrant is not as welcome as the “asian” person UK’s usage refers to.

  • John Thacker

    I noted and was interested in this story before. However, one caveat is that in raw numbers, Asian immigration is basically level, whereas Latino immigration has plunged. That’s not entirely due to a bad economy here, though that presumably has helped; Latino immigration started decreasing even when the US economy was doing well, possibly because of improving economies back home.

  • teapartydoc

    It’s Shake and Bake and I helped. (over fifty percent of my extended family is Asian).

  • b_reynaldo

    The airplane, cheap mass-produced automobile, transistor, integrated circuit, C computer language, and internet protocols were all invented by native born Americans. Unfortunately, all these inventors were American-born white males which really annoys both the diversiphile/multiculti and WSJ globalist crowd.

    Immigrants have indeed made many recent contributions to the tech industry, but immigration enthusiasts like WRM unnecessarily denigrate or ignore the previous and continuing contributions of non-immigrant Americans.

    There is an underlying tone of contempt for the native-born in WRMs and the WSJ pro mass-immigration screeds.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @b_reynaldo: are you saying I’m a self-hating American native? My ancestors are about as deeply planted in American history as is possible for someone of European stock to be, and I deeply respect, even revere, what my ancestors helped build in this country. And part of what I respect is their construction of an open society that has been able to thrive as it offered opportunities to millions of people not lucky enough to be born here. I’m probably attacked more for my deep love of the Anglo-American culture of liberty which shaped this country than for my cosmopolitan leanings, and I think that part of making immigration work involves teaching that culture and those values to new arrivals and their kids. It’s hard for me to understand why someone thinks that honoring our roots and welcoming immigrants is some kind of either/or thing.

  • Shefali

    I am pro-immigrant as long as the immigrants are LEGAL. My parents came here from India. I deeply resent the person who implied Asians are horrible for the environment, etc.

    I am an assimilated American. I vote Libertarian or Republican (depending on the candidate), I recycle, I have a Master’s degree in engineering and I take good care of my pets. So do my friends – whether 1st generation Chinese American or 6th generation Hispanic American or 8th generation Scots American.

    The problem is NOT that we accept immigrants, it’s that American liberals have an apologist attitude towards American culture.

    There is a reason people come here. The American Constitution and legal code, for example, the meritocratic culture, etc. These are all things Americans SHOULD be proud of. And, white people SHOULD be proud of their ancestry. There is absolutely no reason Italian Americans shouldn’t have a parade on Columbus Day or Scots Americans shouldn’t applaud their contributions, etc.

    That kind of pride does not offend me, as a descendent of Indians – I’m proud of many things in my own heritage, such as the invention of the zero by Indian mathematicians, the cultural respect for the elderly, etc. There are also things about Indian culture I despise, such as the nepotism in India. This is why Indians leave India.

    When they come to America, they want to be assimilated into the American culture. Unfortunately, too often teachers, etc., APOLOGIZE for American culture instead of teaching about the great things America has done.

    Look, I don’t have a problem with history teachers pointing out that the way we broke treaties, etc., with the Native Americans was awful. But how about all the great stuff?

    Once upon a time when immigrants came to the US, they were PROUD to become Americans. And, they were EXPECTED to assimilate – to speak English, etc. Now, not so much. No wonder the society is fractured. But the fault is not so much the legal immigrant as the liberal apologists who feel guilty for the privilege of being an American.

  • Rich K

    Yes but those asian ones are all through the front door immigrants,not under the fence types as most of the south of the border ones are.The silver lining is maybe those asian folks will do well enough to hire all the illegals to nanny thier kids and cut thier grass.

  • Ray

    Legal or illegal immigrants?

    In the article Mead only uses percentages, not total numbers.

    Perhaps I missed the part where he describes which group he is discussing.

  • World Traveler

    @WRM: When driving through rural North Carolina or the Eastern Shore of Maryland/Virginia or northern Georgia (nevermind Iowa or Nebraska or Texas or California) and you see ad hoc-built shanties outside the chicken processing plant or the soybean farm with a few stores with signs in Spanish around them, it’s likely that there are illegal workers present.

    My wife is from a foreign country, and I have come to know fairly well how the legal immigration system works. Honestly, it’s fairly reasonable and not unfair, especially compared to other countries. (At the same time, it’s not in our interests to present many more impediments to the world’s educated and skilled immigrants than Canada or Australia do.) For most legal immigrants, the greatest points of unfairness are not immigration law itself, which in my experience people interested in not breaking the law see as something that needs to be complied with, but the fact that tens of millions of illegal immigrants are able to get around it and face no repercussions — and indeed actually get de facto “fast-tracked” for work permits as is currently happening.

    This is a roundabout way of saying that, aside from seasonal worker programs, any farm that is employing immigrants year-round/permanently, is not doing so legally. Work permits are typically given to firms that invest in workers and pay for their visas, and they tend to be white-collar workers. For people coming to the US as part of family-reunification schemes, they typically avoid the farmwork because they can get government assistance that is more lucrative. The fact is that almost any farm employing foreign workers not explicitly part of a seasonal-worker program are doing so illegally — a problem for US productivity (the greatest driver of economic growth and living standards) when we essentially have Roman-era farming practices because of the availability of illegally cheap labor while a Japan, France or Germany has a much more mechanized, roboticized farm industry, driving up both industry productivity and the wages of those who do work on farms, as well as feeding a much higher value-add industrial/robotics industry.

  • Donald Mitchell

    In the early 1960s, I was attending the California Institute of Technology. In a social course, a professor commented that we seemed to be remarkably free of racial prejudice. He was promptly contradicted and the class emphatically agreed. He was astounded when questioning revealed that the target of the prejudice was National Chinese.

    Of course the reason was the perception that most of them only attended class, studied, and raised curves that other students were graded on.

    The driving motive seemed to be to return to Taiwan and become a major player in the advancement of their homeland. I have often thought that it would have been to our great benefit to have persuaded some of them to stay here.

  • Asian Invasion

    Even though we entered the US legally and lawfully from Japan many years ago, my wife and I are still considered a “dirty Asians” by many on the Left, specifcally Marion Barry and Keith Olbermann. Proud to American, ya Lib/Dem scum!

  • Kris

    Donald@19: “it would have been to our great benefit to have persuaded some of them to stay here.”

    But then they’d be stealing American jobs!


  • TTT

    This chart only counts legal immigrants. If illegals were counted, Hispanics would be higher.

    Why should a Hispanic come legally at all? We give greater incentives to be illegal than legal.

  • TTT

    For the idiot who says Asians bring corruption and nepotism to America..

    …That is what you thought about Irish, Italians, and Jews too. That is, until they started marrying the girls you could not get, forcing you to shut up.

    I suspect the same will happen here too, with Indian guys marrying your white daughters.

  • thibaud

    Points-based immigration + border security, now.

    Works for Canada Australia and SIngapore and can work for us.

    Make it happen. Enough already with TweedelDum and TweedleDee’s pimping for one voting bloc and a few sweatshop employers.

  • richard40

    So much for the claim that a huge increase in hispanics will swamp the repubs in the future, since this makes it appear the real expanding group will be asians. On the issues, repubs should do well with asians. Since they are doing well, they should not be crying for handouts, and the dem policy of affirmative action harms them just as much, or possibly more, than it harms whites, and many asians are also family oriented and culturally conservative.

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