Walk into a pre-school classroom in America today and Erika Christakis says it’s likely you’ll see some familiar décor: alphabet charts, bar graphs, calendars, and schedules. It’s all part, says the expert in early child education, of a nationwide drive to make sure kids are ready for school at a younger and younger age.
Immigration has long been an emotionally and politically charged topic in the United States. The Senate last week began debating a bill to reform the nation’s immigration policies. President Barack Obama called it a “broken system” and urged lawmakers to fix it. Some members of Congress are fighting for tougher laws. They, along with many Americans, worry immigrants are taking jobs from U.S. citizens and burdening already strapped social service programs. But a new book argues that legal immigration is almost always economically — and morally — beneficial. Diane speaks with Alvaro Vargas Llosa about immigration.
- Alvaro Vargas Llosa senior fellow at The Independent Institute, a former columnist at the Washington Post Writers Group and former editor at the Miami Herald. He hosted a four-part National Geographic series titled "Consecuencias" on contemporary Latin American history.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa. Copyright 2013 by Alvaro Vargas Llosa. Reprinted here by permission of Independent Institute. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks 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 REHMHe 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 email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir.
MR. ALVARO VARGAS LLOSAGood morning.
REHMGood 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?
LLOSAI 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.
LLOSAYeah, 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.
LLOSAOf 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.
REHMAnd 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?
LLOSAThe 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.
LLOSASo 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.
LLOSAHow 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?
LLOSAIt'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.
LLOSAIt'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.
REHMBut is that true now?
LLOSAYes, absolutely. It's true. Not only that, let me just give you one little example.
LLOSAFor 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.
LLOSAAnd 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.
LLOSABut 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."
LLOSAI 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.
LLOSANot 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.
LLOSAIt'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.
REHMThere 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?
LLOSAOh, 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.
LLOSAYou 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.
LLOSAAnd 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.
LLOSAAnd 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.
REHMAlvaro 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You also argue that legal immigration helps the host nation as well as helping the newly-arrived immigrants. What do you mean?
LLOSAWell, 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.
LLOSAOne, 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.
LLOSANow, 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.
REHMAlvaro 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.
REHMAnd 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
LLOSAThis 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.
LLOSAThe 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.
LLOSASo 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.
LLOSAI 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.
REHMBut 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.
LLOSAWell, 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.
LLOSAOr 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.
LLOSANow 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.
LLOSASo 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.
REHMYou hear it all the time.
REHMWhere were you born Alvaro?
LLOSAI was born in Peru. in Lima.
REHMAnd came to this country when?
LLOSAWell, 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.
REHMYou 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.
LLOSAThat is correct, yes.
REHMHow is he?
LLOSAHe'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.
REHMHave you become an American citizen?
LLOSANo. I am a resident. My children -- I have a song who's 17 and a daughter who's 14. They're both American citizens.
REHMBecause they were born here.
LLOSAOne of them was born -- my son was born in London and my daughter was born here.
REHMNow does your son have dual citizenship?
LLOSAYes, yes, Peruvian and American. And so does my daughter.
REHMAll 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?
REHMI have no idea.
LLOSAI know what a masters is. I know what an H1B visa is.
REHMYeah. "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."
LLOSAI'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.
LLOSAAfter 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.
LLOSASo 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.
REHMHere'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."
LLOSAOh, 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.
LLOSAIf 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...
REHMHow do you believe our laws are disconnected from reality?
LLOSAWell, 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.
LLOSAYou 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.
REHMAnd yet it was exhausted the first day.
LLOSAAnd 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.
LLOSAThere'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.
REHMTo do what?
LLOSAFor low-skilled jobs.
REHMTo what kind of low-skilled jobs?
LLOSAOh, 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.
REHMAnd 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.
JIMHey, good morning, Diane.
JIMIt's a pleasure to talk to you.
JIMFirst of all, the STEM is science, technology, engineering and math.
JIMIt's a focus that the federal government is having for degrees in high school and in college.
REHMThank you for that clarification.
JIMOh, 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.
JIMBut 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.
LLOSAFascinating. Absolutely fascinating.
REHMYes, I should say.
LLOSAWell, 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.
LLOSABut 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.
REHMThanks for calling, Jim. To Raleigh, N.C. Good morning, Brittany.
BRITTANYGood 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.
BRITTANYSo 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.
LLOSAShe 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.
LLOSAAnd 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.
LLOSAThat 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.
REHMAlvaro Vargas Llosa. His new book is titled "Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization and America." Short break, more of your calls, comments when we come back.
REHMAnd 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.
STEVEGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
STEVEI 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.
LLOSAWell, 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.
LLOSAOne 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.
REHMBut broaden that question to other forms of religion, other types of ethnicity.
LLOSAOh, 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.
LLOSAAgain, 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.
REHMAnd 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."
LLOSAWell, 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.
LLOSASo 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…
LLOSA…talking about where do we get new immigrants from because the Mexicans don't need to come anymore?
REHMYeah, 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."
LLOSAOh, 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.
LLOSAAnd 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…
LLOSA…elderly people, taking out of the system.
REHMAll right. To Conroe, Texas. Good morning, Edgar.
EDGAR (CALLERI had a question, Ms. Rehm. Actually, I've got a comment and…
(CALLER…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.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call.
LLOSAWell, I think we're talking about two very different things.
LLOSAAnd 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.
LLOSASo 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.
LLOSASo 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.
REHMAll right. To Orlando, Fla. I think Jeff has also a question regarding Native Americans. Go right ahead, sir.
JEFFThank 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.
LLOSAI 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.
REHMAnd to San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Brian.
BRIAN (CALLEROh, hi, Diane. Thanks…
(CALLER…for taking my call.
(CALLERI 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.
(CALLERIn 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.
(CALLERAnd I think attitudes have changed a lot since three generations ago. How will that affect three generations from now?
LLOSAWell, 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.
LLOSAYou 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.
REHMAnd 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."
LLOSAGood 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.
LLOSAIf 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.
REHMAnd 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.
LLOSANo 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.
REHMRan for president.
LLOSAThat'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…
LLOSA…made us unelectable.
LLOSABut 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.
REHMAlvaro Vargas Llosa. His new book is titled, "Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization and America." What a pleasure to speak with you.
LLOSAOh, it's been an honor for me, Diane. Thank you so much.
REHMAnd give my best to your dad.
LLOSAThank you so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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