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AP Photo/Nick Ut
Students from Huntington Park High School march in a demonstration Friday, March 24, 2006, to
protest legislation cracking down on illegal immigrants, in Los Angeles. 

How Immigrant and US-Born Latinos Adapt

December 18, 2009 01:45 PM
by Shannon Firth
A recent study from the Pew Hispanic Center examines economic, academic and socio-cultural benchmarks that reflect the status and the values of the largest and youngest immigrant group in America: Latinos.

Hispanics in the United States

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There have been about 40 million immigrants to the U.S. since 1965, according to Pew, and approximately half came from Latin America. “By force of numbers alone, the kinds of adults these young Latinos become will help shape the kind of society America becomes in the 21st century,” the report noted.

Researchers conducted over 2,000 phone surveys with “a nationally representative sample” of Latinos, age 16 to 25, and supplemented their findings with information culled from “government demographic, economic, education and health data sets,” the report noted.

U.S.-born Hispanics appear to be hopeful about their potential for economic advancement. According to The Associated Press, “About 78 percent of third-generation young Hispanics and 74 percent of those in the second generation say they will be better off than their parents financially.” Sixty-six percent of Hispanic immigrants believe they will surpass their parents’ financial standing.

As a whole, Hispanic youths are more likely than blacks or whites both to drop out of school and to become teen parents. However, when comparing immigrant and “native Latinos”—those born in the U.S.—the native Latinos have lower high school drop out rates, are less likely to become parents as teenagers, and are more proficient at English. The figures illustrate this well. At 17 percent, almost three times as many Latinos drop out of school as blacks or whites, but restrict the data to native Latinos and this number drops to 8.5 percent, which is comparable to other races, according to the AP.

On a more troubling note, the report showed that native Latinos are more likely to have been in a fight, have ties to a gang, and to be in jail, than Latinos born outside the U.S. Mark Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center said he isn’t sure why second and third generation students are more prone to involvement in gangs and violence. The fact that they are more likely to be in schools, where gangs may have a presence, could offer one reasonable hypothesis. But, Lopez notes, “[T]he survey doesn’t lend any real analysis to this.”

“What I would like to see is more time,” said Eduardo Porter, of The New York Times in a discussion with Lopez and NPR’s Michel Martin. Porter notes that the wave of Latino immigrants is fairly recent compared to other large immigrant groups, so it may take some time before we can accurately answer the question: “How is this big immigrant group going to differ from other immigrant groups that arrive in this country?”

Latinos and Education

Deborah Santiago, the vice president for Policy and Research at Excelencia in Education, wants lawmakers to recognize that the majority of Latinos are not undocumented immigrants, or high school dropouts. On Wednesday, Dec. 16., Excelencia in Education released its report titled “Taking Stock: Higher Education and Latinos.”

“Often, students are told they are the ones who have to change, when in fact the colleges themselves need to adapt as well,” Santiago is quoted as saying, in a press release from Excelencia in Education.

In a briefing held Dec. 14 in Washington, D.C., Bertha Guerrero, CHCI Public Policy Fellow for Congressman Raul Grijalva, explained how special programs helped her transition from high school to college. Guerrero said without such programs she might not have finished her degree at UCLA.

“I went to look at my high school, elementary school, middle school scores, [and] found out that they were the lowest performing schools in my district and that district was … one of the lowest performing districts in the nation … There were barriers that I did not see myself.”

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, by 2025, almost one quarter of the U.S. college-age population will be Latino.
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