Illegal Immigration's Family Breakdown

Republican open-borders advocates tirelessly promote the myth that Hispanics will save the American family from the rising tide of illegitimacy and disintegration.  None of these myth-makers has spent any time, it would appear,  in the Los Angeles Unified School District, undoubtedly the most illegal alien-impacted school district in the county.   “Most of the people I used to hang out with when I first came to the school have dropped out,” observed Jackie, a vivacious illegal alien from Guatemala, who is getting her GED at Belmont High School in Los Angeles’s overwhelmingly Hispanic, gang-ridden Rampart district. “Others got kicked out or got into drugs. Five graduated, and four home girls got pregnant.”

Jackie’s observations have been confirmed by every teen I have spoken to while researching teen pregnancy and out of wedlock child-bearing in Southern California.   “This year was the worst for pregnancies,” said Liliana, an American-born senior at Manual Arts High School near downtown Los Angeles a while back. “A lot of girls get abortions; some drop out.” Are girls ashamed when they get pregnant? I wonder. “Not at all,” Liliana responds. Among Hispanic teens the stigma of single parenthood has vanished. I asked Jackie, the Guatemalan GED student at Belmont High, if her pregnant friends subsequently got married. She guffawed. George, an 18-year-old of Salvadoran background who was kicked out of Manual Arts six months ago for a vicious fight, estimates that most girls at the school are having sex by age 16.

Social workers in Southern California are in despair over the epidemic of single parenting. Not only has illegitimacy become perfectly acceptable, they say, but so has the resort to welfare and social services to cope with it.

I spoke with an obstetrician at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the city of Orange, California, many of whose patients are Hispanic teenagers. A recent patient just had her second baby at age 17; the baby’s father is in jail. But what is “most alarming,” the doctor, herself Hispanic, says, is that the “teens’ parents view having babies outside of marriage as normal, too. A lot of the grandmothers are single as well; they never married, or they had successive partners. So the mom sends the message to her daughter that it’s okay to have children out of wedlock.”

One of the “Hispanic family values” that is thriving is the importance of having children early and often. “It’s considered almost a badge of honor for a young girl to have a baby,” says Peggy Schulze of Chrysalis House, an adoption agency in Fresno. (Fresno has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in California, typical of the state’s heavily Hispanic farm districts.)  This preference for early child-bearing is not ideal in a modern economy.

Statistics bear these personal observations out.  Hispanic women have the highest unmarried birthrate in the country — over three times that of whites and Asians, and nearly one and a half times that of black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Every 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women bore 92 children in 2003 (the latest year for which data exist), compared with 28 children for every 1,000 unmarried white women, 22 for every 1,000 unmarried Asian women, and 66 for every 1,000 unmarried black women. Forty-eight percent of all Hispanic births occur outside of marriage, compared with 24 percent of white births and 15 percent of Asian births. Only the percentage of black out-of-wedlock births — 68% — exceeds the Hispanic rate. But the black population is not going to triple over the next few decades.

As if the unmarried Hispanic birthrate weren’t worrisome enough, it is increasing faster than among other groups. It jumped five percent from 2002 to 2003, whereas the rate for other unmarried women remained flat. Couple the high and increasing illegitimacy rate of Hispanics with their higher overall fertility rate, and you have a recipe for unstoppable family breakdown.

The rate of childbirth for Mexican teenagers, who come from by far the largest and fastest-growing immigrant population, greatly outstrips every other group. The Mexican teen birthrate is 93 births per every 1,000 girls, compared with 27 births for every 1,000 white girls, 17 births for every 1,000 Asian girls, and 65 births for every 1,000 black girls.
 For a long time, conservatives have been uniquely willing to sound the alarm about the costs of illegitimacy.  Children raised in single-parent homes, they have warned, are at far higher risk of school failure, juvenile delinquency, emotional problems, teen pregnancy, and poverty than children raised by married parents.  Yet when it comes to Hispanics, open-borders advocates, fearless about decrying family break-down among blacks, suddenly go silent.  

Ditto the other social problems that are showing up above all in the second and third generations of Hispanic immigrants.  Hispanics have the highest school drop-out rate in the country — a recipe for economic decline.  In the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is 73%  Hispanic, just 40% of Hispanic students graduate.  Immigrant advocates have fiercely opposed in court a long-deferred California high school exit exam, which would require students to answer just over 50% of questions testing eighth-grade-level math and ninth-grade-level English. The California Research Bureau predicts that if the exam becomes a reality, Hispanic graduation rates would drop well below 30%.

Gang life is thriving in L.A.’s schools, and is spreading across the country with the migration of Hispanic immigrants.  The incarceration rate of Mexican-Americans is 3.45 times higher than that of whites.  Sociologists Alejandro Portes of Princeton and Rubén G. Rumbaut of the University of California, Irvine, followed the children of immigrants in San Diego and Miami from 1992 to 2003. A whopping 28% of Mexican-American males between the ages of 18 and 24 reported having been arrested since 1995, and 20%reported having been incarcerated — a rate twice that of other immigrant groups. Anyone who speaks to Hispanic students in immigrant-saturated schools in Southern California will invariably hear the estimate that 50% of a student’s peers have ended up in gangs or other criminal activities.

These are the social facts about which open-borders conservatives never speak. If the current level of immigration flows continues, they will only get worse. 

Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, from which this article was adapted.