Alingual Education: Young Victims of Mass Immigration

By Mark Krikorian on June 13, 2002

National Review, June 13, 2002

A story from Sunday's Washington Post suggests that the problem of educating immigrant children is far worse than most people thought, and that the sunny predictions about mass immigration turning out fine, just like 100 years ago, are unlikely to pan out.

It seems that American-born children in immigrant families make up from a third to half of the students in English-as-a-second-language classes - the rest were actually born abroad. As shocking as that is, it's not the worst part. These children are growing up knowing neither English nor Spanish; in the words of one teacher, "it's as if they don't have a dominant language. They're not bilingual. They're alingual."

The results are shocking:

  • One second-grader speaks what little English he knows without an accent, but has a remarkably limited vocabulary and frequently answers questions with exaggerated faces; "Another child, in another environment, would use words to express how they feel," one social worker said. "But William just makes these funny faces."

  • A kindergarten language teacher finds that her students don't know simple words, like "roof" or "pants."

  • A group of four-year-olds in a Head Start class in Montgomery County, one of the richest jurisdictions in America, are clueless when it comes to speaking: "When another boy flung dirt on others with his shovel, or when some wanted to put worms in a bucket, the children had no words in any language. They filled the air with inarticulate grunts and cries of 'Heeeey.'"

  • When asked his favorite color, a four-year-old doesn't answer "red," or even "rojo," but "west" - because in his favorite TV show, Power Rangers, the red character is named West.

  • The mother of a child who is silent in school is asked if the girl talks at home. "You'd have to ask her sister," the mother says, because she is never home when the child is awake.

This happens not because these children are inherently unintelligent, but because they have so little interaction with their parents or any other adults; the parents have very little education and work multiple jobs at very low wages (you know, "jobs Americans won't do"), so the children spend most of their time parked by babysitters in front of the television. And the cause of this is today's policy of mass immigration, which imports servile labor from pre-modern societies into our 21st century, information-based economy - just so service employers won't have to raise wages and make labor-saving capital investments.

The statistics are hard to refute: Immigrants are more than three times more likely to lack a high-school diploma than native-born Americans, and they account for more than one-third of all high-school dropouts in the labor market. Thus, immigrants have median annual earnings fully one-quarter lower than natives. In a magisterial 1997 report, the National Research Council concluded that immigration was responsible for close to half the decline in relative wages for high school dropouts from 1980 to 1994, translating into lost wages for those dropouts amounting to about 5 percent of their incomes.

And the disparity between immigrants and natives is growing and is not caused by recent arrivals just getting started. In 1970, established immigrants (those who had already lived in the United States between 10 and 20 years) were substantially less likely to live in or near poverty than natives; by 2000, this was completely reversed. Established immigrants' rate of home ownership has consistently declined for three decades, and the gap in high-school-completion rates between natives and established immigrants has been growing steadily.

None of this should be a surprise. By plunging masses of people from traditional societies into our modern society, we are replicating the situation when Europeans arrived among American Indians or Australian Aborigines. The conquered peoples were at such a low level of cultural development that their societies morally disintegrated and to this day are beset with massive alcoholism and widespread dysfunction (unlike the more-developed peoples who were conquered by Europe, like those of south or east Asia, who were technologically backward but culturally advanced enough to maintain the integrity of their societies).

Immigration is mushrooming; the Census Bureau reported last week that the current immigration wave now exceeds anything seen before in our history, with a 57 percent increase in our foreign-born population during the 1990s, to a total of 31 million in 2000, while the foreign-born proportion of our population is on track exceed the previous record by the end of this decade.

Though the Post's story completely misses the point about the reasons for this mess ("The phenomenon calls into question the way schools teach English"), policymakers need to focus on the real problem. If reducing immigration did nothing else, it would give the parents of these kids a raise, so maybe they would be able to get by with two jobs instead of three, and actually see their children on occasion. Also, resource-strapped schools would not have to cope with a continually expanding problem.

There is a high cost to cheap labor, paid by, among others, taxpayers and students from American families whose education is degraded by the burdens of dealing with enormous numbers of immigrant children. But first of all, it falls on these little children who, despite being developmentally normal, are intellectually stunted. The best-case scenario for these kids is a life of service to advocates of mass immigration - cleaning the Wall Street Journal's offices and mowing Michael Barone's lawn. More likely will be lives marred by prison, drug use, and homelessness.

Among the many victims of mass immigration, a four-year-old who doesn't know the word for "red" in any language has to be at the top of the list.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.