Alvaro Vargas Llosa: "Global Crossings"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:54
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. is known as a nation of immigrants. Their contributions over centuries have helped the strong and culturally-rich country we have today. But as debate over immigration reform legislation heats up, so has anti-immigrant rhetoric. In a new book, journalist and author Alvaro Vargas Llosa examines the causes and consequences of human migration.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:29
He argues that immigrants' contributions far outweigh the cost. His book is titled "Global Crossings." Alvaro Vargas Llosa joins me in the studio. I know many of you will want to join our conversation. Give us a call 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir.

MR. ALVARO VARGAS LLOSA

11:08:02
Good morning.

REHM

11:08:04
Good to have you here. You know, I think there was a time when, as you point out in your book, there was a time we all thought of ourselves as a nation of immigrants and we were proud thereof. Do you think we're moving away from that notion?

LLOSA

11:08:30
I think we have to, to an extent, but I think it would also be interesting for listeners to know that back then, I'm talking about the end of the 19th century, early 20th century, although there was a positive feeling about immigrants throughout part of the nation, there was also a lot of hostility.

REHM

11:08:48
Of course.

LLOSA

11:08:51
Yeah, so it's never been easy for immigrants and this debate has never been won by one side easily. There were a lot of prejudices against Irish immigrants in the 19th century, against Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

LLOSA

11:09:11
Of course, Jewish immigration as well, from Central and Eastern Europe, faced a lot of that, not to speak of Japanese. So it's always been tough, but, yes, there have been periods when the climate was a more friendly climate than the one we've had recently. Obviously, the economy, 9/11, all of that has not helped at all.

REHM

11:09:27
And certainly you've come at a time when the Congress of the United States is really in heavy debate about this issue. What would you most like them to understand?

LLOSA

11:09:44
The important thing is not only to take care of the immediate problem, the problem we face now, but to anticipate the future intelligently. Previous attempts at reform were relatively good at taking care of the immediate problem, bringing people out of the shadows back then. But we're not as good at anticipating what was going to happen in the future, which is why we ended up facing exactly the same problem a few years down the line.

LLOSA

11:10:12
So how do we prevent another 11.5 or 12 million people 10, 15, 20 years from today from having, you know, again, sort of triggering a debate about how to take of them -- how to bring them out of the shadows again? And I think one way to do that is not to pretend you can really know for sure exactly the number of immigrants from different categories, from high-skilled to low-skilled and whatever else you want to categorize them as.

LLOSA

11:10:45
How many exactly are going to be needed by the economy and by society and that's the only part of this that I think people who are pro-immigration are not necessarily all that clear about. But hasn't that always been the case that when immigrants came to this country, they brought with them perhaps their own skills, their own ability to blend into the workplace. What's different now?

LLOSA

11:11:18
It's very interesting because, I mean, there are differences, but the really striking point here is -- or the striking feature of this is really that the similarities far outweigh the differences. Assimilation, for instance, is taking place pretty much at the same pace that it did in the early 20th century.

LLOSA

11:11:36
It's a three-generation process. The first generation makes some progress. The second generation fits in very well and by the third generation, assimilation is complete to such an extent that they don't even speak the mother tongue, the language that their parents or grandparents used to speak.

REHM

11:11:53
But is that true now?

LLOSA

11:11:54
Yes, absolutely. It's true. Not only that, let me just give you one little example.

REHM

11:11:56
Sure.

LLOSA

11:11:56
For instance, out-marriage, what they call out-marriage, in other words marrying beyond your national community, second-generation Italians in the early 20th century, they were out-marrying at a certain pace. In the second generation, it was 17 percent of them. They married non-Italians. Today, among Mexicans and Hispanics in general, it's almost 20 percent so it's similar to what it was back then.

LLOSA

11:12:24
And yet, there are, of course, a lot more proportionally. Relatively speaking, there are a lot more Mexicans today than there were Italians back then, in terms of what percentage of the population they constitute and what percentage of immigrants in general they constitute. I mean, arguably it's easier for a Mexican today to marry another Mexican in the U.S. than it was for an Italian back then and yet they're out-marrying at exactly the same pace, in fact even more.

LLOSA

11:12:46
But as you say, there are more of them coming in so you hear complaints. For example, people who live in Florida who might argue when I go into a shop, all I hear is their native tongue. I don't hear as many of them attempting to learn "our language."

LLOSA

11:13:14
I can fully understand that impression and yet if you look at all the research, all the statistics, the evidence points in a different direction. By the second generation Hispanics -- in this case, let's talk about Hispanics, because they're the most numerous ones, are speaking English better than they're speaking Spanish and by the third generation, they're not speaking Spanish anymore.

LLOSA

11:13:36
Not only that if you look at past waves of immigrants, it was very similar. Italians would go to certain communities. They would speak in Italian. Germans would go to certain communities in the Midwest and they would speak German. Not only that, they would print newspapers in German just as some Asians did in California back then and even more recently.

LLOSA

11:13:56
It's very common for immigrant communities at least in the first generation to sort of protect themselves, you know, in this fashion. And yet that is not an obstacle for assimilation and integration and anyway it's still happening at the same pace that it was before.

REHM

11:14:15
There seems to be a difference now in the sense that we've already been told that within 20 years, Hispanics, Japanese, Italians, people of all different races, ethnicities will be in the majority. The white population will be in the minority. Doesn't that change the attitude of people who are here now who see this influx and who realize that they will eventually?

LLOSA

11:14:59
Oh, it is human nature that it should and clearly people are always going to be feeling a little bit, you know, threatened by an influx of people who are going to change the demographics of their community or even their color. You know, it's the way human nature tends to react and yet I would point out that it's always been like that in the United States.

LLOSA

11:15:23
You had an original wave of immigrants and then you had a different type of immigration and that changed the demographics. and so if you look at what happened between the 1830s and the 1880s, it was mostly Western Europeans and heavily Anglo-Saxon and Northern Europe. And yet between 1880 and 1920, it was all Eastern European there and Southern Europeans, very different people culturally and they looked different as well than the previous waves.

LLOSA

11:15:49
And those people who had come in earlier, of course, felt exactly the same. The demographics are going to change. We're going to feel that we're not in the majority anymore and that is true. But I mean, that was not the end of the world. That enriched U.S. society. That made it even more prosperous, it made it more dynamic.

LLOSA

11:16:10
And I think this is what's going to happen today. I mean, it's not Doomsday that this country is becoming more diverse. I think it's something that white Americans should embrace and live with happily.

REHM

11:16:18
Alvaro Vargas Llosa, his new book is titled "Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization and America." You can join us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. You also argue that legal immigration helps the host nation as well as helping the newly-arrived immigrants. What do you mean?

LLOSA

11:17:02
Well, immigration in general tends to have a very positive effect, both economically because it helps to enlarge the economy and it helps to create a lot of dynamics both at the lower end and high end of the economic scale as it were, but it also helps culturally. We live in a world that's interdependent, that's globalized where you want to be connected to the rest of the world. And if you have communities of people here who have these attachments to the rest of the world, clearly it's going to be helpful.

LLOSA

11:17:37
One, I think, tremendous example of this is the Chinese community which was, for a long time in this country, looked at with a lot of suspicion. But in the last few decades, part of the great economic exchange between the United States and China has been facilitated by the fact that there were Chinese-Americans who understood China, who knew China, who were accepted as interlocutors in China commercially and otherwise and who established bridges between this country and China.

LLOSA

11:18:00
Now, forget about governments for a moment, just societies, just the dynamics of traveling back and forth, exchanges, cultural and, of course, economic as well so I think it helps the country in many ways. It helps culturally. It helps from the point of view, I mean, economically, clearly economically as well.

REHM

11:18:16
Alvaro Vargas Llosa, he's a senior fellow at The Independent Institute. His new book is titled "Global Crossings." We'll take a short break here. When we come back, talk further and include your comments.

REHM

11:20:05
And welcome back. If you've just joined me, Alvaro Vargas Llosa is with me. His new book is titled "Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization and America." And so far, Alvaro, we've been talking about those who came to this country legally who brought with them their own cultures, began to assimilate, began to learn the language, help to enrich our society. Now the debate has to turn to the illegal immigrants who are here in this country and who have become the focus of not only congressional attention, but the public feels very, very divided on this issue. How do you differentiate in your own mind between those who come here legally and those who come here illegally

LLOSA

11:21:18
This is a great point, Diane, and I think it's a really legitimate, of course, to debate and discuss. And who wants to have millions of people operating in the shadows? And especially not a country that prides itself on operating and being governed by the rule of law. But here's the difference. We talk about these immigrants in the 19th century and the early 20th century and they numbered proportionately about the same as they do today in terms of what percentage of the population. We're talking about 13, 14, 15 percent of the population. It's about 13 today so the numbers are not really all that different.

LLOSA

11:21:53
The difference was that there were much fewer restrictions. There were no ceilings or quotas and therefore, they could come in legally. Now the difference is we have quotas and ceilings that make it very hard for the supply to match the demand as it were. In other words, in times of bonanza, say the 1990s, there was a lot of economic activity, a lot of demand for foreign workers. And yet there was only -- there was a ceiling so there were only so many that could come through legal channels.

LLOSA

11:22:18
So eventually what happened was they found a way around the law, which is why I think the really important issue here is not only, of course, that we want everybody to come in legally. I mean, clearly who doesn't want that? The issue is here, how do we put in place a system that flexible enough to accommodate the demand for workers and the supply for workers depending on what time of the economic cycle we find ourselves in for instance because those things are going to change from year to year.

LLOSA

11:22:49
I mean, three years from now -- now the economy obviously is slow but three years from now, four years from now, who knows? We might have a booming economy. We might need not 200,000 but 500,000 immigrants. And if the law doesn't adapt itself to that reality than we've got a situation in which the black market thrives. In other words, we get illegal immigrants.

REHM

11:23:08
But what about the question of skill sets and who comes into this country? There are a great many people who believe the illegal immigrants are taking from this country rather than giving to it. You say in your book that people fear -- well, we know that people fear that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from people here in this country because they're willing to take low-pay, below minimum wage. You've got that problem as well.

LLOSA

11:23:54
Well, I conducted very extensive research on this, Diane. And what I found is the following. They don't take jobs away from Americans. Let me just give you one example. Just before the bursting of the bubble, in other words, just before the crisis in 2007, you had in Arizona a very interesting situation. You had almost full employment. Unemployment was only about 4 percent. And yet 10 percent of the workforce was immigrant. So clearly immigrants were not taking jobs away because there was almost no unemployment at all.

LLOSA

11:24:25
Or look at it this way. From the Second World War to until today, in other words, you know, over what, 60 years or so, we've had millions and millions of baby boomers and women join the workforce. About 90 million if you combine the two. And yet there's never been long term unemployment in the United States. This huge influx of new workers, what they did is of course they enlarged the economy. They grew the pie, as it were, which is exactly what happens with immigrants.

LLOSA

11:24:58
Now in terms of wages, yes, there is a small -- a very small impact at the low end temporarily. Our research indicates that they lower wages at the lower -- at the bottom of the scale by about 1.5 percent, which is offset by the fact that those who move up the scale because of this dynamic earn higher wages. And the effect -- the net effect is about 1.8 percent rise in salaries.

LLOSA

11:25:29
So really there's no, you know, negative economic effect. It's really very positive. But I know this myth has -- is very entrenched and this is an argument that people make.

REHM

11:25:41
You hear it all the time.

LLOSA

11:25:43
Yeah.

REHM

11:25:44
Where were you born Alvaro?

LLOSA

11:25:46
I was born in Peru. in Lima.

REHM

11:25:48
And came to this country when?

LLOSA

11:25:51
Well, I came about ten years ago. I was invited to write a book about Latin America. I was based for a while in the other coast. And then that was so far away from all the places I need to travel to that I thought, well I better move to the east coast. And I never thought I'd be here for such a long time and here I am.

REHM

11:26:13
You are the son of Mario Vargas Llosa whom I have had the honor of interviewing. He wrote fiction. He also ran for president of your country at one point.

LLOSA

11:26:31
That is correct, yes.

REHM

11:26:32
How is he?

LLOSA

11:26:33
He's very well. He's still writing. He's not as young as he was but he's still going and still strong. And he spends his time mostly in Europe and spends a few months a year in Peru as well.

REHM

11:26:45
Have you become an American citizen?

LLOSA

11:26:49
No. I am a resident. My children -- I have a song who's 17 and a daughter who's 14. They're both American citizens.

REHM

11:26:57
Because they were born here.

LLOSA

11:26:59
One of them was born -- my son was born in London and my daughter was born here.

REHM

11:27:04
Now does your son have dual citizenship?

LLOSA

11:27:07
Yes, yes, Peruvian and American. And so does my daughter.

REHM

11:27:10
All right. Here is a two-part Tweet. He says, "I'm on an H1B visa. I have a STEM masters." What does that mean, a STEM masters?

LLOSA

11:27:31
Oh yeah.

REHM

11:27:32
I have no idea.

LLOSA

11:27:33
I know what a masters is. I know what an H1B visa is.

REHM

11:27:35
Yeah. "And I have been waiting for a green card for ten years. I want to begin a startup but can't. I'm forced to move to Canada for a startup visa. Our focus on immigration is so skewed against productive immigration."

LLOSA

11:28:01
I'm very surprised because that person -- I don't know if it's a he or a she, but it sounds very much like somebody who would -- should not have a lot of trouble getting a green card. Why? Because the way it usually works is this. An H1B -- these are for those listeners who don't know -- is a visa that you get when you are sponsored by a company or an organization. I was once on an H1B visa as well. You get it for three years and it's renewable only once for another three years.

LLOSA

11:28:28
After that, if you want to remain in the country, you need to apply for a green card. If the company or organization to which you are attached sponsors you, usually you should not have much trouble getting that one. So I'm surprised that person is getting it. Alternatively -- because that person mentioned as well they want to establish a startup -- that's another way of doing it. There's a type of visa that you can obtain if you can invest a certain amount of money and create, I think it's ten jobs.

LLOSA

11:28:59
So if that person has some capital or is able to get a loan, that person should not have a lot of trouble unless something else is happening that we don't know about.

REHM

11:29:07
Here's an email from Laurel in Ann Arbor, Mich. who says, "No country in the world is foolish enough to have open borders, because it would be suicidal. We have immigration system through which people from other countries become citizens every day. Someone who does not respect our laws enough to go through our system legally does not deserve to be here."

LLOSA

11:29:43
Oh, that's a very powerful sentiment and a very legitimate sentiment. I mean, who can be against the idea that everything should take place under the law? I mean, clearly you don't want millions of people operating outside of the law, just as a matter of principle, I mean, let alone the consequences. But I go back to a point I made a while ago, which is the fact that if the law does not reflect reality, what tends to happen is conditions are created for a black market. This happens with trades, with goods, with services, and also with humans. It's just the way it works.

LLOSA

11:30:17
If the law is kind of disconnected from reality you tend to have a situation in which demand is so strong that it will push people on the supply side to find ways around the law. So...

REHM

11:30:33
How do you believe our laws are disconnected from reality?

LLOSA

11:30:39
Well, I think that we have had for a long time restrictions in terms of ceilings and quotas that were not realistic. Just to give you one example, we were talking about H1B visas just now, and it's a perfect example. Before the bursting of the bubble, now we have, you know, everything that went on before and everything that went on after the bursting of the bubble. But we're talking about 2006, 2007.

LLOSA

11:31:04
You had a ceiling of I think it was 65,000 H1B visas. Look, that quote, Diane, was exhausted on the first day when you were able to apply. So can you imagine? This was a number that was really established so that people throughout the year would be able to apply for H1B visas.

REHM

11:31:26
And yet it was exhausted the first day.

LLOSA

11:31:27
And on day one it would be exhausted. Clearly that was not realistic. So, you know, that creates an incentive for -- if there is demand for those types of workers, and we're talking about sort of mid to high skill in this case -- creates incentives for people to find ways around the law. And we have the same situation, for instance, in this bill under discussion in the Senate.

LLOSA

11:31:49
There's one category so-called W visas. That's really low skilled. The number they have established for the first year, it kind of rises as time goes on but for the first year is 20,000, which I really think, Diane, is very unrealistic. I mean, clearly we need for than 20,000. There's demand for more than 20,000.

REHM

11:32:09
To do what?

LLOSA

11:32:10
For low-skilled jobs.

REHM

11:32:12
To what kind of low-skilled jobs?

LLOSA

11:32:14
Oh, construction for instance. You know, we're -- there's a special provision for agriculture workers, but we're talking about sort of the equivalent in various industries. Well, I mean, my -- obviously I don't know. Nobody knows. You know, nobody's able to anticipate the future in this precise way, but I am pretty certain that there is demand for more than 20,000 at that level. So again, if the demand for them is much higher than 20,000, you will definitely get a situation in which people will try to find ways around the law.

REHM

11:32:46
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many callers. We'll open the phones. First to St. Augustine, Fla. Good morning, Jim.

JIM

11:33:01
Hey, good morning, Diane.

REHM

11:33:02
Hi.

JIM

11:33:02
It's a pleasure to talk to you.

REHM

11:33:03
Thank you.

JIM

11:33:04
First of all, the STEM is science, technology, engineering and math.

REHM

11:33:08
Good.

JIM

11:33:08
It's a focus that the federal government is having for degrees in high school and in college.

REHM

11:33:13
Thank you for that clarification.

JIM

11:33:15
Oh, you're welcome. I'm a seven -- generation seven. My family immigrated here in the 1740s into South Carolina. And all the paternal limbs of my family have been in the South. I'm in my 60s and so I've been through segregation and integration of our high schools. And that assimilation is taking a long time, but it is happening. And my best friend happens to be an African-American man. I'm a (unintelligible) . And I think that that's slow but it's productive, it's positive and it's happening. And of course Spanish speakers in Florida are being assimilated as well and comfortably. It just takes time.

JIM

11:33:55
But the point I wanted to make too was that my son lives in New Orleans and I visit there often, and how they've embraced the French culture that settles that area. And that actually the French language is quite quaint and acceptable now because of the time. I just think that all of these things are going to take a long period of time to happen and they will be accepted. Whether we are the minority or the majority, America will be America.

REHM

11:34:24
Alvaro.

LLOSA

11:34:24
Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating.

REHM

11:34:25
Yes, I should say.

LLOSA

11:34:26
Well, I mean, that's what my research indicates. And it's always wonderful when real life, the real world matches your research. That's exactly what I'm finding. It does take a bit of time but it always took a bit of time. And it is happening. The listener mentioned New Orleans and it's very interesting. Not only French culture. At one point Cuban culture was very much part of that heritage. Of course, they've now moved to Florida and we all know -- we're very much aware of that.

LLOSA

11:34:52
But at one point Cubans were settling in New Orleans. And there was a time -- and I've read testimonies of the times -- Spanish was spoken there for a while. And then of course things evolved and now Spanish is not really spoken all that much. There are a few pockets here and there. And yes, I was aware that in certain communities French is still very much alive.

REHM

11:35:14
Thanks for calling, Jim. To Raleigh, N.C. Good morning, Brittany.

BRITTANY

11:35:21
Good morning. Thank you. I just want to say that this is a very interesting talk. I'm a fourth generation Mexican. And I was really interested in what Alvaro had to say about language being lost. My mother grew up -- my grandmother and my mother grew up in east L.A. And they weren't allowed to speak Spanish growing up because they wanted to be Americanized. And that assimilation was really pushed there. And my grandmother dealt with so much racism that it was very important for her that her daughters be seen as Americans.

BRITTANY

11:35:55
So culturally speaking for me, I'm a 30-year-old young adult and now being bilingual is very essential, especially in the work field. And I feel like it's something that I lost as part of my culture. And I think that that's very interesting, your point about it being lost by the third generation.

REHM

11:36:15
Interesting.

LLOSA

11:36:15
She makes a very, very interesting point. Not only is that right, that's exactly what's happening not only in her case. It's happening across the country. But she mentioned something I would like to quickly touch upon, which is Americanization. I don't know if listeners are aware of this. There was a time -- and we're talking about the early part of the 20th century -- when Americanization was very much part of the deal.

LLOSA

11:36:37
And that meant it was not so much government policy. It was a general attitude, a general social and cultural attitude that kind of pushed -- and I use this hesitantly, this word, because it really wasn't pushing. It was just encouraging in terms of the general climate -- immigrants to learn English and Americanize. And I think there was something to be said for that. And it's true that there was a very positive aspect to that in terms that everywhere, in school, at the corporations, everywhere, there was this incentive for people to integrate and assimilate.

LLOSA

11:37:11
That was lost beginning in the 1960s probably in part because of multiculturalism, the idea that it was just not fair to be pushy on minorities and so on. But I think you can get a fair balance between the two.

REHM

11:37:25
Alvaro Vargas Llosa. His new book is titled "Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization and America." Short break, more of your calls, comments when we come back.

REHM

11:40:03
And we'll go right back to the phones, your questions, comments for Alvaro Vargas Llosa on his new book. It's titled, "Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization and America." Now, to Dayton, Ohio. Good morning, Steve.

STEVE

11:40:25
Good morning. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

11:40:28
Certainly.

STEVE

11:40:30
I totally agree with the idea of a three-generational timeline simulation, but with the fast pace of global events and ethnic disputes that exist around the world, blown up by the media. There seems to be less effect of an Americanizing impact or moderation in the first generation. And an example would be the outcry of Sharia law that has come up.

LLOSA

11:40:59
Well, I appreciate, Steve, calling in. I mean the issue of Sharia law has really not come up in the United States. It's come up in Europe, for instance. There are pockets of immigrants from Muslim countries who are embracing and espousing those ideas and values, but they're very, very small. They're only a tiny percentage of the Muslim immigrant community in Europe. And there's been a backlash against that by the immigrants themselves in France, in Spain, in other parts of -- in the United States it really hasn't been the case.

LLOSA

11:41:33
One of the wonderful things about Muslim immigrants in the United States and just the Muslim community in general, not necessarily immigrants, is that it was never the case that radicalism, that fanaticism took route in the way that it did in small pockets of the immigrant community in Europe. So there's a big contrast there.

REHM

11:41:55
But broaden that question to other forms of religion, other types of ethnicity.

LLOSA

11:42:04
Oh, this is a very interesting aspect of this. It's part of the cultural conversation about immigration. My research indicates that in the last 20 years, about 70 percent of immigrants of Hispanic origin -- obviously in the case of Asian immigrants this varies -- were or are Catholic. And about 23 to 25 percent are or were Protestant. But of those Catholic immigrants that I mentioned, one-fifth describe themselves as born-again, which is something that you don't see throughout Latin America, the countries where they're coming from, which really is a form of acculturation and assimilation.

LLOSA

11:42:48
Again, because what they're saying is I still want to be Catholic. I don’t necessarily want to be Protestant, but I am born again. In other words, I have this connection with the Protestant majority, if you will, in the United States. So this is another bridge between immigrants and U.S. society because, not only of course is Catholicism very large in the United States anyway, but also because there's a connection between Protestants and Catholics that they're expressing in this particular manner.

REHM

11:43:15
And here's a question from Joseph in Louisville, Ky., all about economics. He says, "What about the fact that massive illegal immigration from Latin America began only after the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, that drove many Mexican farmers off their land? Corn prices in Mexico were undercut by subsidized corn prices produced by American agribusiness." He says, "First we create the problem, and then we blame the victims."

LLOSA

11:44:01
Well, first of all, the big influx of Mexican and other Northern American, if you want, immigrants in the United States did not begin in the '90s. It really began after '65 when there was a new law that was passed that really kind of changed very much the approach to immigration in terms of the law. But yes, in the 1990s there was a big influx. Mostly because the economy was booming back then and there was a huge demand. Now, the effect on the Free Trade Agreement on the Mexican economy -- and this is a different topic and we could take a long time to talk about this, but essentially what happened is the Mexican economy began to modernize itself.

LLOSA

11:44:42
So what you saw is exactly the same process that you saw in this country many decades ago, in other words, a lot of people moving from agriculture to industry. And because of specialization there was no need anymore to have millions and millions of people doing agriculture work because it was easier to import agriculture goods and food in general. And those people found work in industry. And today Mexico is doing much better than it was 20 years ago. So much so, Diane, that I anticipate a time when we will be -- from this country, we'll be…

REHM

11:45:12
Asking…

LLOSA

11:45:13
…talking about where do we get new immigrants from because the Mexicans don't need to come anymore?

REHM

11:45:15
Yeah, exactly. Now, here's another email with a different perspective. He says, "I've been a Border Patrol Agent for 10 years now. With the abundance of social support programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Welfare, there is a reduced incentive to work hard once those benefits become available. He goes on to say I am all for the legal immigration of educated, skilled workers, but am fearful of the burden that 11 million illegally immigrated people will put on the already taxed social support system."

LLOSA

11:46:06
Oh, that border patrol touches on a really important topic. I think he's right. I mean, of course, you know, a lot of benefits -- or let's say an excess of benefits in any society will generate those incentives, but that would be exactly the same for native citizens. I mean these incentives work exactly the same way, with one difference perhaps. And it's this, it's the average age. I think we need to take that into account when we're talking about what, you know, take out of the system, what you contribute to the system. The average age for immigrants is 27, which means they're young and they're going to be working for a long period of time after they became legal -- if they become legal.

LLOSA

11:46:48
And the average American, I guess, is 42, the last time I looked at the figures. So in that sense they will contribute more to the system. And also, in terms of what they take out of the system, say social security -- this is a very interesting topic, as well. About 1.2 or 1.3 percent of immigrants are over 65, unlike in the case of natives, where it's about 12 percent. So again, a lot more workers contributing to the system and a lot fewer people, in this case…

REHM

11:47:20
Interesting.

LLOSA

11:47:21
…elderly people, taking out of the system.

REHM

11:47:22
All right. To Conroe, Texas. Good morning, Edgar.

EDGAR (CALLER

11:47:27
I had a question, Ms. Rehm. Actually, I've got a comment and…

REHM

11:47:31
Sure.

(CALLER

11:47:31
…a question. I'm a construction worker. I've been my whole life. They really ain't taking our jobs. What the problem is is finding skilled people that are willing to work hard for their money. And then the question that I had is the majority of your white people probably think about the immigration and stuff is how we treated the Native Americans ourselves over the years. And how we -- I’m trying to put it in a nice way. How we pretty much put them out while we came in, in the early case.

REHM

11:48:09
All right. Thanks for your call.

LLOSA

11:48:11
Well, I think we're talking about two very different things.

REHM

11:48:14
Yeah.

LLOSA

11:48:14
And I also want to clarify, when I personally talk about natives, I'm not talking Native Americans. I’m talking about people who are native to the United States by contrast to immigrants, who come from overseas, of course. But he talked about construction. I mean, clearly that's one of the industries where you've seen a lot of low-skill immigrants in the past. And what my research found was that there were fewer and fewer, which doesn't mean zero, but there were fewer and fewer natives, in other words, Americans, people born in the United States who wanted to take those jobs.

LLOSA

11:48:45
So there was clearly demand for low-skilled immigrant workers there, which is why that was one of the industries where they tended to go towards, to concentrate in. Why? Well, probably because in those particular industries Americans were willing to move up the scale. So what tended to happen was immigrants would come in, take those jobs. Americans would move up the scale to perhaps managerial positions. A lot of managerial positions were created in the last 20 years in that industry in particular and other industries where immigrants came in.

LLOSA

11:49:23
So what you saw was this dynamic. People come in, take the lower jobs, other people move up, and that's always been the case. Except that now, immigrants are part of that deal.

REHM

11:49:31
All right. To Orlando, Fla. I think Jeff has also a question regarding Native Americans. Go right ahead, sir.

JEFF

11:49:44
Thank you. I just kind of wanted to make the observation that I think it's tragically comic that there's a large segment of the white population that are the beneficiaries of quite a big tragedy in the Native American holocaust. And to have them turn around and decry, you know, other people coming into the country at this point it just kind of ludicrous.

LLOSA

11:50:11
I respect those sentiments. I wouldn't put it quite that way. I think that -- yes. I mean that historical wound is very much there, but that's not a reason why we shouldn't contemplate the future in a more constructive way. I mean, if anything we should learn from that past.

REHM

11:50:28
And to San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Brian.

BRIAN (CALLER

11:50:33
Oh, hi, Diane. Thanks…

REHM

11:50:34
Hi.

(CALLER

11:50:35
…for taking my call.

REHM

11:50:35
Sure.

(CALLER

11:50:37
I am a big fan of the Independent Institute and glad to hear Mr. Vargas Llosa. And I had a question about what he was talking about, the arc of a simulation, first, second, third generation. Now, how much -- when you're talking about the third generation, we're talking about three generations ago that started. Over time, like you mentioned in the '60s how the attitudes toward multiculturalism and the simulation changed. When you go back three generations we're talking about the Woodrow Wilson administration and, you know, back then, they didn't have press one for English, press two for German.

(CALLER

11:51:17
In a lot of ways, even expressing any kind of German identity was pretty much outlawed by the Woodrow Wilson administration. So there was a greater force for assimilation. How relevant is your third generation historical data now? And that, I guess, is my question. I mean, how relevant is that data now, because I know people first generation immigrants whose parents, they immigrated here, first generation Americans. When they were growing up they were told not to speak English in the home. They were forbidden from speaking English in the home. They had to speak Spanish.

(CALLER

11:51:52
And I think attitudes have changed a lot since three generations ago. How will that affect three generations from now?

LLOSA

11:52:01
Well, the law changed in 1965. So it's almost a half a century now. And so that's plenty of time to see whether the new situation differs very much from the previous situation because we've had several generations after that. And today it is still the case, very much the case, that it's a three-generation pattern. What happens, again, is the first generation makes progress, the second generation is bilingual and is substantially assimilated and the third generation is completely assimilated and so much so that they forget the mother tongue.

LLOSA

11:52:33
You also have a very interesting situation, which is they feel so secure, just as the Irish did and the Italians did in the past, so secure about being part of this society that they begin to claim their heritage, in terms of festivities and these kinds of things. Of course, nothing very substantial in the sense that they're not going to become un-American. It's simply that they feel so secure, so assimilated and then they don't feel they're going to be looked upon or frowned upon if they begin to embrace certain holidays and certain festivities back home.

REHM

11:53:03
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email from Sam who says, "I live in the greater Grand Rapids, Mich. metro area. There's a large Hispanic population here. I've noticed hundreds of small businesses have popped up in these Hispanic areas. They seem to only hire other Hispanic immigrants. I don't see how this helps anybody who was born here in the U.S. and is now jobless due to the recession."

LLOSA

11:53:46
Good point. Two things, Diane. One is entrepreneurship among immigrants is very much a driving force. The percentage of immigrants that are self-employed because they want to create their own businesses and not work for somebody else is very much the same as for the native population, for Americans. It's between 12 and 13 percent. So again, that's another way of showing how culturally compatible immigrants are with native society. And, yes, of course, in certain communities it's going to be almost inevitable that people hire other people who speak their language, but believe me, they will never go against their economic interest.

LLOSA

11:54:24
If they have to pick, you know, between just expressing solidarity with another fellow immigrant or just being profitable, I mean, they're going to choose being profitable, which is the way the economy works. It just may be that in that particular community there's a disproportionate number of immigrants, so they will tend to hire other immigrants, probably.

REHM

11:54:43
And here's a final email. "People claim immigrants, legal or illegal, take work away from Americans. This could be true, but in 1959," he says, "I took a summer job as a carpenter's helper at $1.75 an hour. I could work three hours and after taxes had enough to fill my car with gas. Try that today with minimum wage. There are few, if any, Americans who'd be willing to do that." You know, throughout this discussion, it seems to me that there is an undercurrent of fear that we haven't touched on. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of how any group of immigrants large enough, is going to change what we Americans believe we own.

LLOSA

11:55:53
No question, Diane. I think you make a really important point. Sometimes when I speak to people who make some of these arguments against immigration, I feel that they're not really believing in those arguments so much as trying to rationalize what is really a very deep-seated fear, which is very human. It's understandable. It's happening in almost every community through history. I've seen it in my own country. I was telling one of your producers the other day how interesting it was -- and my father was involved in politics a long, long time ago.

REHM

11:56:23
Ran for president.

LLOSA

11:56:24
That's right, in 1990. And I remember racism and ethnicity becoming a huge issue in that campaign on two different levels. One was because we were accused of being Spanish descendants or descendants from Spain. So that was kind of somehow, you know, something that…

REHM

11:56:41
Derogatory.

LLOSA

11:56:42
…made us unelectable.

REHM

11:56:43
Yeah.

LLOSA

11:56:43
But we also had people on our side who -- because one of my father's rivals was a man of Japanese descent, people on our side saying how could we vote for somebody who's of Asian descent? And I can remember feeling, what's happening here is simply fear. That's what it is. And we need to put those fears to rest.

REHM

11:57:02
Alvaro Vargas Llosa. His new book is titled, "Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization and America." What a pleasure to speak with you.

LLOSA

11:57:15
Oh, it's been an honor for me, Diane. Thank you so much.

REHM

11:57:18
And give my best to your dad.

LLOSA

11:57:20
Thank you so much.

REHM

11:57:21
And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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