Many Americans would like to curtail illegal immigration by poor, uneducated Spanish-speakers from south of the border. Walter Russel Mead defends immigration — as a whole — by shifting our attention to America’s new tiger immigrants from Asia:
Since 2008, more newcomers to the U.S. have been Asian than Hispanic (in 2010, it was 36% of the total, versus 31%). Today’s typical immigrant is not only more likely to speak English and have a college education, but also to have come to the U.S. legally, with a job already in place.
The Pew study found that the new Asian immigrants identify themselves, surprisingly, as 22% Protestant and 19% Catholic, but whatever their religion, most of them have in spades what Max Weber called the Protestant work ethic. Arguably, in America’s long history of immigration, the group that the new immigrants resemble most is the original cohort of Puritans who settled New England.
Like them, the Asians tend to be better-educated than most of the people in their countries of origin. Steeped in the culture of enterprise and capitalism, they’re more likely than native-born Americans to have a bachelor of arts degree. While family sponsorship is still the most important entry route for Asians (as for all immigrants), this group is three times more likely than other recent immigrants to come to the U.S. on visas arranged through employers.
In many cases, they’re not coming to the U.S. because of the economic conditions back home. After all, places like China, Korea and India have experienced jumps in prosperity and an explosion in opportunity for the skilled and the hardworking. But most of the new immigrants like it here and want to stay (only 12% wish they had stayed home).
More Asian-Americans (69%) than other Americans (58%) believe that you will get ahead with hard work. Also, 93% say that their ethnic group is “hardworking.”
There also seems to be some truth in the “Tiger Mom” syndrome described by author Amy Chua. While 39% of Asian-Americans say their group puts “too much” pressure on kids to succeed in school, 60% of Asian-Americans think that other Americans don’t push their kids hard enough.
Other family values are strong as well, according to Pew. Only 16% of Asian-American babies are born out of wedlock, in contrast to 41% for the general population. In the U.S., 63% of all children grow up in a household with two parents; the figure for Asian-Americans is 80%. Some 66% of Asian-Americans believe parents should have some input into what careers their children select and 61% think that parents have something useful to say about their children’s choice of a spouse. The hard work and strong family values appear to pay off: Asian-Americans’ median household income is $66,000 (national median: $49,800) and their median household wealth is $83,500 (national median: $68,529).
Nor does the community seem to be inward-looking or unwilling to assimilate. While just over half of first-generation Asian immigrants say that they speak English “very well,” 95% of those born in the U.S. say they do. Only 17% of second-generation Asian-Americans say that their friends are mostly members of their own ethnic group.
Perhaps reflecting this social integration, Asian-Americans are the most likely of all American racial groups to marry outside their own race: 29% married non-Asians between 2008 and 2010; the comparable figure for Hispanics was 26%, for blacks 17% and for whites 9%.
In 1965, Asian-Americans accounted for less than 1% of the population; today they are almost at 6% and growing, with the biggest numbers from China, the Philippines and India, followed by Vietnam, Korea and Japan. (Almost one out of four Asian-Americans has roots in either mainland China or Taiwan.)