Spinning Immigrant Family Values

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on July 22, 2011

An interesting Washington Post story cited Census Bureau figures about family make-up in Northern Virginia’s D.C. suburbs, based on the area’s immigrant presence.

The article cited Virginia statistics, which contrasted Northern Virginia residents by ethnic or racial group and from residents in the rest of the state. Education level was cited as a key factor in nuclear family formation; those with higher educational attainment tend to marry and have children, in that order. Thus, Census figures show greater instance of marriage and family in highly-educated Northern Virginia among all ethnic and racial categories reported.

The news article also implied that immigrants have stronger family values than native-born Americans. “Demographers and experts on family issues say one reason why the region has so many nuclear families is the influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants, who are much more likely to be part of a traditional family than whites or blacks,” the Post claimed. By nuclear family is meant a man and woman who have married and then had at least one child. It continued:

Both culture and necessity can contribute to the prevalence of nuclear families among Asians and Hispanics, particularly for recent immigrants. Asians have high marriage rates and low divorce rates, and Hispanics tend to have more children, [Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew] Cherlin noted.

"Both have strong family traditions of staying together,” said Qian Cai, director of demographics at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center. "Even if they’re not happy, they stay together. As immigrants, it’s a survival strategy.”

Emma Violand-Sanchez, a member of the Arlington County School Board, notices a distinct difference between the individualism of American culture and the more-communal family values in Hispanic culture.

“We grow up with a concept of we, versus I,” she said. “If you have toys, those toys belong to the entire family, not to one child.

“The majority of us are Catholic, and the church also reinforces the family. Versus living with a partner without getting married, or living independently, away from your family. Family is valued. We grow up with a sense of responsibility to be together.”

Such assertions echo the talking points that politicians and elites often employ. Remember George W. Bush’s bromide, “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande”?

The fact is that, if illegitimacy and ethnic group failure at healthy family formation was disturbingly high among black Americans in the 1960s when Daniel Patrick Moynihan brought it to the public’s attention, then illegitimacy and failed family formation is epidemic among immigrants today.

Steven Camarota’s important analysis of birth records shows that native and immigrant illegitimacy rates have grown over the past 30 years. Apart from teen pregnancy, rates stand at about 30 percent for both natives and immigrants.

Illegitimacy among Latino immigrants has reached 42 percent. It’s 39 percent for black immigrants. However, illegitimate births are low among Asian and white immigrants (11 percent and 12 percent, respectively).

Given that vast swaths of immigrants today lack education and skills, the connection that such low human capital has to family failure should be sobering, even to immigration enthusiasts: “Out-of-wedlock births are highest for those with the least education; among immigrant mothers who lack a high school diploma, 45 percent of births are illegitimate.” Further, Camarota found: “Unmarried immigrants are much more likely to give birth than unmarried natives. One out of every 12 unmarried immigrant women had a child in 2003; for natives it was one out of 25. It was one out of seven for Hispanic immigrants.”

The truth is uglier than merely a higher proportion of immigrants having more babies out of wedlock. The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald reported, “Social workers report that the impregnators of younger Hispanic women are with some regularity their uncles, not necessarily seen as a bad thing by the mother’s family. Alternatively, the father may be the boyfriend of the girl’s mother, who then continues to stay with the grandmother.” This brand of immigrant “family values” inflicts a lot of lifelong baggage on the poor kids.

The implications of these national trends in immigrant misbehavior and degraded valuation of legitimate family structure range from higher welfare and criminal justice costs to wholesale societal breakdown. The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector has crunched the numbers and reported the utterly detrimental effects of single parenthood. Pretty much, it imposes on the children a life sentence of second-class existence. The evidence is incontrovertible: Children in intact families grow up more emotionally balanced and better adjusted, less likely to engage in antisocial or criminal activity, and do better in school (and thus go further academically).

The costs to native-born taxpayers fall particularly hard — and unfairly, as we are now importing poverty (perhaps categorizing welfare queen as yet another “job” Americans purportedly won’t do?). Rector said, “Roughly three-quarters of this welfare assistance, or $300 billion, went to single-parent families.” When more than seven out of ten poor “families” represent unmarried household heads, with immigration contributing an outsized proportion to that underclass, our present immigrant selection scheme has failed.

These arresting facts indicate that mediating institutions like the church may not hold the sway they once did in certain immigrant communities. It highlights the failure of extended families (a la chain migration) to make an appreciable positive difference in a lot of circumstances. Thus, the selective quotes in the Post story, such as those by the Arlington County School Board member, seem more political spin than honest opinion.