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Commentary By Heather Mac Donald

Stingy with Immigrants?

Education, Economics, Economics Pre K-12, Immigration

The U.S. is not spending enough on helping immigrants to assimilate, argues a USC professor in the New York Times. We should redirect “the billions of dollars spent on border enforcement” to the education budget, both to federal student loans and to community and four-year state colleges, says public-policy professor Dowell Myers.

The notion that taxpaying citizens are not already shelling out plenty for educating immigrants and their children is fanciful. Let’s look at community-college outlays, where the majority of second- and third-generation (overwhelmingly Hispanic) immigrant college students are found. Federal, state, and local governments spent nearly $4 billion from 2004 to 2008 on community-college students who dropped out after their first year; add in part-time students and capital expenditures, and the number would be much higher, reports the American Institutes of Research. Hispanic students are overrepresented among those community-college dropouts. Would more spending make a difference in the dropout rate? Unlikely.

So perhaps we are simply not spending enough on K-12 education. California, where over 50 percent of the student body is now Hispanic, is a bellwether. No other item in its budget comes close to K-12 education–$64 billion—much of that devoted to trying to close the achievement gap between Hispanic students and whites and Asians. So far progress has been slim, as I discuss in the forthcoming Winter issue of City Journal. Only Mississippi had as large a percentage of its 8th-grade students reading “below basic” on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); in 8th-grade math, California came in third after Alabama and Mississippi in the percentage of students scoring “below basic.” Myers projects that by 2030, 18 percent of second-generation Hispanic students will have a college degree. He apparently means that as good news; in fact it is a sign of how slowly progress between the generations is occurring, since the Hispanic graduation rate in California was 10 percent in 2006.

Myers wants to declare the problem of illegal immigration over, based on the claim that population flows from Mexico have become stagnant and will remain so. That remains to be seen. But it is not the case that Americans have been stingy in providing public resources to immigrants and their children.

This piece originally appeared in National Review Online

This piece originally appeared in National Review Online