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National Review Online


Re: The Company You Keep

June 12, 2007

By Heather Mac Donald

Linda Chavez all but declares that my writings on immigration are driven by ethnic hatred. This kind of charge will be familiar to anyone who has taken a public position against affirmative action and found himself called a racist. As a debating tactic, it is low and — not to put too fine a point on it — disgusting. It is meant to bully and intimidate. What should be a spirited debate about facts and the effects of policy becomes an assault on character and motive. I do not question the character of those who favor wholesale legalization and more liberal immigration policies. I disagree with them. I would like to think that the American society that immigrants seek out — the one that new immigrants, we are told, will assimilate to — is one that values civility in debate and a mutual respect between opponents. As I say, I would like to think that.

But if pointing out the facts of underclass behavior among a significant portion of Hispanics is proof of anti-Hispanic animus, Chavez is going to have to widen out her anti-bigotry crusade considerably. She doesn’t like my skepticism towards Michael Gerson’s claim that Hispanic culture is “focused on education.” Here are some other targets that Chavez had better start going after:

UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center and Faculty Center, which in 2006 sponsored a conference on Hispanic student failure. Conference participants presented research that slightly more than 50 percent of Latino students finish high school and 10 percent graduate from college, based on the 2000 federal census. University of California at Davis education professor Patricia Gandara blamed an “absence of a culture” of college attendance for the low college-graduation rates.

The Brookings Institution. Their 2006 report, “A Fifth of America,” noted that 45 percent of Hispanic students are dropping out of suburban high schools.

The California Research Bureau, which reported in 2006 that the Latino graduation rate in California was just over 45 percent and in the Los Angeles Unified School District, 40 percent. The Bureau noted that a planned high-school exit exam, fiercely opposed by immigrant advocates, would likely depress Hispanic graduation rates to 30 percent. That controversial exam, by the way, would require students to answer just over 50 percent of questions testing 8th-grade-level math and 9th-grade level English. Academic skills among Latino students who do graduate in California are abysmal: Only 22 percent have completed the minimal coursework required for admission to the University of California, noted the Bureau. It is that persistent underachievement among Hispanics (as well, of course, as among blacks) that creates constant pressure for affirmative action in colleges and beyond.

Harvard economist Roland Fryer, who reported in the Winter 2006 issue of Education Next that the stigma against academic achievement is higher among Hispanic students than among blacks.

Former Congressman Herman Badillo, whose book One Nation, One Standard calls for Hispanics to embrace education as route out of poverty. Chavez notes that I cite Badillo as a source, without explaining why he, too, is guilty of anti-Hispanic bias.

If Chavez can make an argument for a Latino passion for educational achievement with a straight face, let’s see her try.

Chavez derides my City Journal article on Hispanic illegitimacy rates as “based largely on anecdotes gathered in a visit to Los Angeles, frequently supplied by Spanish surnamed social-service providers to lend authenticity, with a smattering of highly selective statistics.” This is called “reporting,” a practice with which Chavez is obviously unacquainted. (For the record, I grew up in Los Angeles, and spend a good part of every year working there.) It might do Chavez some good to get out of her elite Washington think tank existence and spend some time in the 70 percent Hispanic Los Angeles Unified School District, talking to students, parole officers, and anti-drop-out counselors, as I have done. Or perhaps she might do some ride-alongs with Mexican-American gang officers in Santa Ana, Ca., and Los Angeles, who could tell her about the increasing viciousness of Latino gang culture in southern California. But then, even if Chavez bestirred herself to do some hands-on research on Hispanic family values, she would be handicapped by her self-described lack of Spanish. She wouldn’t have understood a word at an anti-gang program at the Berendo Middle School in Los Angeles that I attended in July 2006, for example, for students who are showing signs of gang involvement and their single mothers. Nor would she be able to speak to the illegal alien unmarried mothers who peddle fruit on the streets of Santa Ana, which has the highest percentage of Spanish speakers of any city in the country. If Chavez has any interest in reporting on these topics, perhaps I could arrange Spanish lessons for her with my sister-in-law, a beloved and integral member of our family, who emigrated to this country legally from Mexico after meeting and marrying my brother in Mexico City.

Let us add to Chavez’s list of anti-Hispanic bigots Latino students in southern California, who attest to the culture of teen pregnancy in their schools. These would include Jackie, a vivacious illegal alien from Guatemala, who is getting her GED at Belmont High School in Los Angeles’s Rampart district. “Most of the people I used to hang out with when I first came to the school have dropped out,” she observed. “Others got kicked out or got into drugs. Five graduated, and four home girls got pregnant.” The anti-Hispanic bigots would also include Liliana, an American-born senior at Manual Arts High School near downtown Los Angeles. “This year was the worst for pregnancies,” she said in 2004. “A lot of girls got abortions; some dropped out.” There’s no stigma attached to getting pregnant, Liliana reported. Asked if her pregnant friends subsequently got married, Jackie guffawed. George, an 18-year-old of Salvadoran background who was kicked out of Los Angeles’s Manual Arts for a vicious fight, estimated that most girls at the school are having sex by age 16. Teachers say that for many Hispanic male students, being a “player” now includes fathering children out-of-wedlock.

It is inconceivable to me that Chavez could spend any time in heavily Hispanic schools and come away with a radically different picture.

Also in line for a Chavez thrashing is the Centers for Disease Control, which reports that 48 percent of all Hispanic births in 2005 occurred outside of marriage, compared with 25 percent of white births and 16 percent of Asian births. Hispanic women have the highest unmarried birthrate in the country — over three times that of whites and Asians, and nearly one and a half times that of black women, according to the CDC. Every 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women bore 92 children in 2003 (the latest year for which data exist), compared with 28 children for every 1,000 unmarried white women, 22 for every 1,000 unmarried Asian women, and 66 for every 1,000 unmarried black women.

Conservatives have long decried the steady rise in American illegitimacy as a bellwether of social breakdown. The national illegitimacy rate and the white illegitimacy rate — both considerably lower than the Hispanic rate — are considered a dangerous portent for the future. But when it comes to Hispanic illegitimacy, Chavez tells us not to worry, because “most Hispanic children are being raised by two parents.” But so are most white children and most American children on average, without that fact diminishing justified concern over out-of-wedlock child-rearing. And the percentage of children born to U.S.-born Hispanics who are being raised by their actual parents — 56 percent, according to the March 2003 Current Population Survey — is not exactly cause for celebration.

Chavez falsely accuses me of expressing “alarm over Hispanic fertility rates.” To the contrary. I wrote in 2006: “But it’s the fertility surge among unwed Hispanics that should worry policymakers” — not Hispanic fertility rates in general, which, according to the Pew Hispanic Center are twice as high as those of non-Hispanics.

Chavez doesn’t like my figure from my 2004 City Journal article that “in Los Angeles, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for homicide (which total 1,200 to 1,500) target illegal aliens. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants (17,000) are for illegal aliens.” It was given to me by a source in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Fugitive Warrants Section and I stand by it. It is consistent with other data: In 2005, 20 of 23 suspects wanted on homicide or attempted homicide in Milwaukee, for example, were Hispanic — that, in a city with a miniscule Hispanic population compared to L.A. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 15 percent to 20 percent of illegal aliens wouldn’t qualify for amnesty based on their criminal record, reports the Wall Street Journal. As I explained to Chavez, the fugitive-warrants data is cumulative over a period of years; the homicide data for 2004 is irrelevant. The high proportion of Hispanics and illegal aliens among fugitives reflects the fact that suspects from those groups often flee back to their home countries. I’m not surprised that the press office of the LAPD won’t confirm the LAPD data; the department’s leadership is one of the most politically correct in the country, having for decades embraced a sanctuary policy that has resulted in a virtual cordon sanitaire between officers on the street and federal immigration authorities.

Here again, Chavez would benefit from getting out and talking to members of high-density Hispanic communities and the officers who police them. To deny a Hispanic gang and crime problem simply defies reality. Chavez focuses exclusively on first-generation Mexicans to try to rebut my writing on Hispanic crime. But I myself have pointed out “the relatively low crime rate among immigrants.” I added, however, that “unless we can prevent immigrants from having children, a high level of immigration translates to increased levels of crime. Between the foreign-born generation and their American children, the incarceration rate of Mexican-Americans jumps more than eightfold, resulting in an incarceration rate that is 3.45 times higher than that of whites, according to an analysis of 2000 census data by the pro-immigrant Migration Policy Institute.”

The Hispanic crime problem has also been documented by sociologists Alejandro Portes of Princeton and Rub�n G. Rumbaut of the University of California, Irvine (presumably, they must be anti-Latino, too), in their Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study. A whopping 28 percent of Mexican-American males between the ages of 18 and 24 reported having been arrested since 1995, and 20 percent reported having been incarcerated — a rate twice that of other immigrant groups.

Last week, I had the unpleasant experience of debating Chavez on NPR’s Tell Me More. I prefaced my remarks by saying, as I have in virtually every media spot I have done on immigration, that the majority of Hispanics are enormous assets to their communities and to the United States. But that reality exists simultaneously, I said, with the undeniable fact of a growing underclass culture among Hispanics. Chavez retorted snidely that I had never made such a statement praising Hispanics before — an outright falsehood, had she listened to any of my radio or TV interviews. (She also claimed that the individual fee in the Senate immigration bill for legalization was $9000, which would be a surprise to the bill’s drafters.) In 2004, I wrote: “To be sure, most Hispanics are hardworking, law-abiding residents; they have reclaimed squalid neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere. Among the dozens of Hispanic youths I interviewed, several expressed gratitude for the United States, a sentiment that would be hard to find among the ordinary run of teenagers. But given the magnitude of present immigration levels, if only a portion of those from south of the border goes bad, the costs to society will be enormous.” That is the complex reality of Hispanic immigration on which I have reported. Chavez says that it is bigotry to do so. I disagree.

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