RAND Study Shatters Image of Mexican Immigrants

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The stereotype of the Mexican immigrant as a single, male farmworker residing in the United States only for a brief wage-earning stint in no way reflects today's reality of a population that is half female, intent on permanent residency, and placing a larger burden on education than any other public service, according to a recent study by the RAND Corporation.

The characteristics of the nation's Mexican-origin population "have changed markedly," and the image of the young, uneducated, male agricultural worker earning money to take back across the border to his family "no longer applies," the RAND report said.

The changing demographics of the Mexican-origin population "create complex political, social, and economic issues for federal, state, and local governments," yet scholars and government officials continue to be influenced by the single-male stereotype in shaping policy, according to the report.

Georges Vernez, director of RAND's immigration-policy programs, and David Ronfeldt, a senior political scientist with the firm, studied demographic changes in the Mexican-origin population and their effect on U.S. society. The report of their findings appeared in the March 8 issue of the weekly journal Science.

"Mexican immigration to the United States has been accelerating since the 1950's, bringing the Mexican-origin population to more than 12 million by 1988," the report said.

More and more Mexicans are planning to remain in the United States, the report added, citing as evidence increases in the numbers of Mexican immigrants living with families and naturalized citizens, enrolling their children in schools, and voicing their intention to naturalize. The Mexican immigrant population is highly concentrated in certain areas; about two-thirds of them live in the Western United States, primarily California. More than four-fifths of the immigrants in that region live in metropolitan areas. "That concentration tends to be self-perpetuating and to promote further immigration," the report said.

Among public services, education has been the most affected by Mexican immigration, both legal and undocumented, in part because a public education is guaranteed to undocumented children who are in eligible to receive certain federal public-assistance benefits.

The tendency of Mexican immigrants to be young and to have large families means that they consume more educational services than do native-born families. In Los Angeles, for example, Mexican house holds in 1980 enrolled 2.25 more children in schools than the city average, the report noted.

"Mainly because of this disproportionate demand on educational services and the lower earnings of Mexican immigrants, they probably get more in educational and other federal, state, and local services than they pay," the report said.

However, it cautioned, such "stat ic accounting" fails to consider the long-term benefits of such govern ment outlays and fails to view education as "an investment in human capital."

Among other findings, the report also concluded that:

The integration of Mexicans into American society from one generation to the next seems to have proceeded well until 1980. Newer immigrants appear to be slower to integrate, however, and the educational gap between Mexican immigrants and the native-born population has widened over time.

Relatively low levels of education, combined with large numbers of new immigrants, appear to be slowing the growth of earnings among the Mexican immigrant population.

The recent legalization of more than 2.3 million undocumented Mexican immigrants is likely to in crease the demand for public services, including adult education.

Hispanics have not been able to translate their increasing numbers into increased political efficacy be cause youth or lack of citizenship prevents them from voting, but the situation is likely to change as more reach voting age and acquire citizenship.

Cecilia Munoz, a senior policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, an umbrella organization re presenting Hispanic community groups, said the RAND study "helps dispel some of the myths about Mexican immigrants that we have been fighting for years."

Asserting that the single-male stereotype of the Mexican immigrant has been perpetuated because "it is easier to think of immigrants as not making contributions if we think of them as unconnected people," Ms. Munoz said the RAND study confirms that Mexicans "come as families, are interested in feeding their children, and don't represent a threat to society."

Vol. 10, Issue 28, Page 12

Published in Print: April 3, 1991, as RAND Study Shatters Image Mexican Immigrants
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