Immigrants in America: The second-generation story
February 7th, 2013
03:48 PM ET

Immigrants in America: The second-generation story

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - Tucked in the Senate bipartisan plan on immigration reform are key requirements for prospective immigrants. Among them, a knowledge of English, civics and history of the United States. Assimilation is clearly an underlying issue in the debate.

A new study shows that second-generation Americans have enjoyed success in becoming a part of America.

Roughly 6 in 10 said they consider themselves to be a "typical American," though they maintain ties to their ancestral roots. That's almost double the number of immigrants who identify that way, according to a new Pew Research Center study released Thursday.

Like Jose Martinez, 29, a son of Dominicans who owns his own graphic design company in New Jersey.

"It's important to try and hold on to your roots, stay Latino," he said. "But you have to be American at the same time."

And Suvrat Bhargave, 44, a son of Indian immigrants, who likes to say Indian is an adjective but American is the noun when he describes himself as Indian-American.

Martinez  believes his interests - he likes snowboarding, biking and social media - jibe with mainstream America. His ethic of hard work, strong among immigrants in general, puts him on a path of achieving the dream.

"I'm on my way to doing better than my father," he said.

Bhargave, too, believes he is in a better place in life now than his father was at the same age. There is a lesser sense of isolation.

With his father's generation, two worlds were clearly defined. India and America.

"I think we have created a world that fits us," said Bhargave, a child psychiatrist in suburban Atlanta.

The comments and the findings of the Pew study are not surprising, perhaps, when you think about the waves of immigration in this country. The biggest difference is that the bulk of America's newest second-generation adults are not Europeans. Half of the 44 million immigrants who arrived in America after the passage of landmark immigration legislation in 1965 are Latinos and about a quarter are from Asia.

The roughly 20 million adult U.S.-born children of these immigrants  are substantially better off than immigrants on several measures of socio-economic progress, said the Pew study, based on the latest U.S. Census data.

More second-generation immigrants - half of whom are Hispanics and Asian-Americans - are college graduates and have higher incomes. Second-generationers' median household income is $58,000, compared to $46,000 for immigrants. More are homeowners and fewer - 11% versus 18% - live in poverty.

"In all of these measures, their characteristics resemble those of the full U.S. adult population," said the Pew report, based on an analysis of the latest U.S. Census Data.

Second-generation Latinos and Asian-Americans differ from the general population in the importance they place on hard work and career success. They identify more with the Democratic Party rather than the GOP. 

That is more in line with the values and beliefs held by immigrants.

But they are more likely to speak English than immigrants.  They are also more likely to marry outside their ethnic or racial group.

The comparisons hold up across racial and ethnic groups, Pew found, though it recognized vast differences between different groups. Many Hispanic immigrants have relatively low levels of formal education and work in low-skilled, low-paying jobs, while the majority of Asian immigrants are more educated and are in higher-skilled occupations.

The study said:

These large racial or ethnic group differences in the human capital of recent immigrants are echoed in the socioeconomic profile of the second generation," the study said. "For example, some 55% of second-generation Asian-Americans have a bachelor’s degree or more, compared with 21% of Hispanics. There are also gaps in household income and poverty rates among second- generation Hispanics and Asian-Americans.

The Pew report points out that some immigration experts have questioned whether the children of modern-day immigrants will be able to experience the upward mobility of previous generations.

The skeptics cite many factors: Most modern immigrants are non-white and thus face deeply ingrained social and cultural barriers; about a quarter of today’s immigrants (the vast majority of whom are Hispanic) have arrived illegally and thus must navigate their lives in the shadows of the law; globalization and technology may have eliminated many of the jobs that provided pathways to the middle class for earlier generations of hard-working but low-skilled immigrants; the relative ease of travel and communication have enabled today’s immigrants to retain their ties to their countries of origin and may have reduced incentives to adapt to American customs and mores.

The report warns against making judgments based on the data that was analyzed, saying that data trends do not reach far back enough in history.

But the findings are important as the immigration debate heats up in Congress.

And because of this fact: Consider that virtually all of the growth (93%) of America's working-age population between now and 2050 will be accounted for by first-generation immigrants and their U.S.-born children. That's according to Pew's projections given current trends.

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Filed under: Asian in America • Immigration • Latino in America • Population • Who we are
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. sly

    Most Americans are way too stupid to discuss immigration with. All you white boys were once illegal immigrants yourselves foo's, just you murdered your way into America.

    Go ahead, send the illegals home, and watch how the entire world economy collapses within less than 60 days. No illegals equal no harvest equals massive recession equals global meltdown.

    Sounds real dramatic huh? Well, I wouldn't expect Americans to understand what the economists predict – after all, none of y'all even believe in Global Warming. (But you do think some fat white man sits up in the clouds and can be viewed sometimes from 747's). Stupid is as stupid does.

    February 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MattBMO

    "about a quarter of today’s immigrants (the vast majority of whom are Hispanic) have arrived illegally"

    If they arrive illegally, they are not immigrants. They are invaders. They are citizens of another country who have illegally invaded the United States for purposes which may be harmful to the country and its citizens. Lumping them in with legal entrants as "immigrants" is part of the process that apologists use to try to make us believe that their crimes are not important or harmful.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. SR

    Where in this article does it say anything about illegal immigrants? My wife came here legally from Russia as a child. She had a green card, went through all of the requirements, and became a legal citizen when she was 21. The people this article talks about are successful college educated citizens who make positive contributions to society.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • james

      This article is about legal immigration, and if you follow the rules, that you can prosper in america, and be embraced by americans. Which is true.

      Where is the illegal banter coming from?

      February 8, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. toydrum

    You should learn to read the actual content before you start typing. This article is not about illegal immigration, it is about legal immigration.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  5. Moose

    I will agree. I hate the argument where people say illegals get "free things". That is NOT true. Legal immigrants who come here from poverty do that. I have seen people here on diversity visas issued by the gov't or people who come here whose family members have sponsored them who take full advantage of everything that is FREE offered by the gov't. Im a Canadian who has been living here since 2001. Came legally, have been paying taxes, paid out of state tuition. Got laid off during the recession while on a TN visa, returned to Canada. Tried to come back LEGALLY after being rehired and was deported. I had to get my employer to then sponsor me for an H1. It's 2013, 12 years and I am still on an H1-B visa. No green card. The system is horribly broken. I blame politicians who play with peoples lives.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  6. fiftyfive55

    one more thing; legal immigrants pay taxes like everyone else,illegals cant legally pay so if someone is collecting taxes from them,they are getting ripped off.you need a social security card to pay taxes and illegals dont get legitimate cards.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. fiftyfive55

    Your statement is 500 years too late and is NOT even a qualifier for an arguement.By yor statement,if the people of the world never came to AMERICA,you likely would not have even been born and your "people"as you identify them,would still be living in squalor filled adobe shacks and livin in the jungle so think about how you've been enlightened by the others in the world instead of knocking them.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  8. Mnela

    Hate, hate and hate some more. Until it drives you sick stressed and your liver and heart get shoke. Hate the people of mother earth. HATE! The sons and daughters of SEM.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
    • fiftyfive55

      It's not hate trying to keep illegals out,it's self preservation we are talking about here,and as far as jobs Americans won't do is a mute point since Americans will do ANY job,we just want to be paid fairly,not with slave rates like big business wants.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrea

      It's not hate. I'm an immigrant myself, have been legally residing in the US for almost 18 years. I speak English, I pay taxes, I work. Why would I expect anything less from anyone looking to live in the US. It's not about, Maria. It's about what's right, it's about the law of the land. Now I understand that these days blaming hate is the "in-thing" to do because then we don't have to take responsibility for our actions. So we point the finger and blame someone else. Wanna be part of America? Respect it's laws and respect what it stands for.

      February 8, 2013 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
      • Michele

        You've stated what I believe perfectly.

        February 8, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
      • james

        I agree with this 100%, too bad people don't see it for what it really is, respecting our laws. A great post! Thank you!

        February 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jorge

    Jean, it's such simplistic, generalist conflation expressed by folks with your mindset that make me bow my head down to think that I was born here, but cheered by the fact that I'm LATINO.

    February 8, 2013 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Gi Jon

      Well if you can't appreciate being an American then get out Im sure being latina there many other countries to choose from. AMERICA-LOVE HER OR LEAVE HER! !!

      February 8, 2013 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. Laura

    Isn't every american an illegal? Ask the natives. Weren't they also forced to put up with people like you? Wake up and smell the coffee. The US is a country of illegal immigrants. And no one is more legal or more american than the other. The day the pioneers set foot on land, they paved the way for the rest of the world. And at the expense of the really true americans.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:12 am | Report abuse |
    • fiftyfive55

      You should not apply today's thinking to something from over 500 years ago because it doesnt apply to America.At the time,the entire world was in a land grab and that was the way of thinking back then.I tired of hearing unknowledgeable people apply modern thinking to ancient decisions.Today's America is a different place and time , our corporations are squeezing out our jobs to the countries these illegals are coming from and at the same time,exploiting them here and using them to lower our standard of living.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Moose

      Very well put. I'll have to agree with that. People often tend to forget their roots and forget history.

      February 8, 2013 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • RiseAgain

      should the entire New World, including Mexico, have open borders?

      February 8, 2013 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
      • zzzz

        Stop locking your house and your car. Keep all the doors wide open.

        February 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • RiseAgain

      the entire new world was populated by...the Spanish, mainly, who decimated the Native population. Much more so than the British. So the Mexicans are decendants of the Spanish, right? Does that give me the right to cross their borders?

      Or are you just nailing the United States?
      You need some more coffee.

      February 8, 2013 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • james

      That argument is tired, and old, and stupid. There weren't any laws when the immigrants came, there wasn't an infrastructure or anything, just some indians living here. Not like we came here and they had full running infrastructures and we got to enjoy it. The country has been built. This is not the same country the settlers found.. get rid of that argument, it makes you look stupid.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • k8br

      I don't know about you, but I am not an illegal immigrant, I was born here!!!

      February 8, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      That is a bit of a false statement. The "Native Americans" weren't really native to America. They just happened to mirate here pror to Europeans. That doesn't mean we "stole their land" as some would have us believe.

      February 8, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leonardo

      If humans were created less than 1000 years ago, yes the Native Americans could claim to be the earliest settlers. Too bad prove has them coming from Asia. So Asia is their proven native homeland, not North America. High School history is limited and statements like those give you away. At the Universities, we talk about evolution. Learn about it.

      February 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Texas Gal

    They should make a requirement to speak and read the English language before you can become an American citizen. Some of these immigrants are tested in their spanish language. Also some of them have dual citizenship. They need to make up their minds if they really want to be Americans they should renounce their country's citizenship. You can't have it both ways...

    February 8, 2013 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Moose

      Its funny you mention the comment about being able to speak English before becoming a citizen. That is currently a requirement. Please perform your due diligence before making comments and misleading other people such as you are.

      February 8, 2013 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • zzzz

      English language test is a part of the Naturalization Interview, with the following exception. As you understand, very few people use it.

      You Are Exempt From The English Language Requirement, But Are Still Required To Take The Civics Test If You Are:

      Age 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident (green card holder) in the United States for 20 years (commonly referred to as the “50/20” exception).
      Age 55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 15 years (commonly referred to as the “55/15” exception).

      February 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jacky

    You do realize that America was founded by immigrants and even though someone is of a different race doe not mean that they have come into the country illegally. Not only that but many face prejudices by people like you who believe its fine to talk down to them aside because you believe that "more american than them".

    February 7, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marty

      Put that card back in the deck! This has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with breaking our laws.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Concerned

      The thing is that America does not need more immigrants. Nor does any country.They are already full of Americans. People need to stay in their own countries and make them better. At what point do you quit inviting people to live in your house? In reality do you need to invite people into your house or have you filled it up with your own children and family. Why does any country think they need to import people when they have the genes and enough people already to fill any voids.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Concerned

      I am talking about Swedish, European or anybody. So I am not singling out any ethnicity. We have them all here in American now. So the melting pot is full and I do not see why we need more people not born American.

      February 8, 2013 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • james

      what do you have your panties in a bind? Of course america was founded by immigrants, my grandfather was dark skinned, and was super pro america. So much so he changed his name from Vicente to James because he thought it was more "american"

      February 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |