What assimilation? Half the people in America’s largest cities speak foreign languages

· September 21, 2018  
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Highway with IMMIGRATION painted on it
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A century ago, when Teddy Roosevelt expressed his view that “we have room for but one language here, and that is the English language,” could he ever have imagined a time when almost half the residents of our largest cities would speak a foreign language?

The Center for Immigration Studies has continued its series of immigration analysis based on new Census data, this time focusing on the number of people who speak foreign languages in their homes. Their findings are shocking. According to 2017 Census surveys, 48.2 percent of residents of our five largest cities speak a language other than English at home: New York City and Houston (49 percent); Los Angeles (59 percent); Chicago (36 percent); and Phoenix (38 percent).

Obviously, whenever we admit immigrants, even as they are learning English, they might speak their native language at home for a generation. That is to be expected, and there is nothing new about that trend. But the sheer numbers should set off alarm bells that we are taking in too many people too quickly – reinforced by endless waves from the same countries of origin – and losing our cohesiveness as a nation. Earlier this week, I posted a report showing that even at the height of the Great Wave, we’ve never taken in so many immigrants. This new report from the CIS demonstrates the harm this is doing to our common culture.

“A common language is part of the glue that holds the country together. But in many cities, more [than] half the residents now speak a foreign language at home, while in other cities or rural areas almost everyone speaks English,” observed Steven Camarota, the center’s director of research and co-author of the report. “The level of immigration is so high that it may be causing the country to grow apart, weakening the idea that Americans are one people.”

Among the many findings of the report are the following disturbing data points:

  • The data released thus far indicates that nationally, nearly one in four public school students now speaks a language other than English at home.3 In California, 44 percent of school-age (5-17) children speak a foreign language at home, and it’s roughly one-third in Texas, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Florida.
  • Of school-age children (5-17) who speak a foreign language at home, 85 percent were born in the United States. Even among adults 18 and older, more than one-third of those who speak a foreign language at home are U.S.-born.4
  • Of those who speak a foreign language at home, 25.9 million (39 percent) told the Census Bureau that they speak English less than very well. This figure is entirely based on the opinion of the respondent; the Census Bureau does not measure language skills.

This is very revealing for a number of reasons. It demonstrates that it’s not just immigrant children who are having difficulty speaking English, but even American-born children of immigrants. What does that do for cohesiveness in our education system?

Also, it’s concerning that more than one-third of adults who speak a foreign language at home are U.S.-born (19.3 million people). This means we are not just talking about immigrants, or native-born children who speak English well but use another language to converse with their immigrant parents. This is a salad bowl dynamic, where the velocity of immigration has been so intense for so long, with new waves from the same parts of the world reinforcing the old ones, that there is no assimilation. A Migration Policy Institute report claims 77 percent of the millions of school-age children enrolled in “limited English proficient” programs are native-born.

More than one in three Texas schoolchildren speaks a language other than English at home. How do we succeed in the continuity of our traditions with a dynamic like that?

Here are some other interesting tidbits:

  • Overall, a record 66.6 million speak foreign languages at home, roughly 21.8 percent of the population. This is double the level in 1990 and triple that of 1980.
  • Not surprisingly, given the rapid trend of immigration from the Middle East and North Africa, the number of Arabic speakers doubled since 2000 and rose 44 percent since 2010. There are now 1.2 million Arabic speakers in the U.S. There was almost a three-fold increase in Bengali speakers since 2000, the result of a large influx from the Islamic country of Bangladesh due to the diversity lottery.
  • Spanish still dominates the list of foreign languages spoken in America: 41 million of the 66 million foreign language speakers speak Spanish at home. This is an important factor preventing assimilation because, unlike in the past, where immigration was more diverse, many people feel that they can retain their previous language because so many speak Spanish. It’s a lot easier to create the desired melting-pot dynamic when the immigrants are more evenly divided. Roughly half of all immigrants over the past half-century have hailed from Latin America.
  • The state trends are enormously important when projecting future electoral viability of non-left-wing politicians. Texas went from 22 percent speaking foreign languages to 36 percent since 1980; Nevada went from 10 percent to 31 percent; and Florida went from 13 percent to 30 percent. When you drill down into the states that traditionally had fewer immigrants, you can see a dramatic percentage increase. Virginia went from 4 percent to 16 percent; Georgia from 3 percent to 14 percent; and North Carolina from 2 percent to 12 percent.

As the authors of the report note, “Taking the longer view, states with the largest percentage increase in foreign language speakers from 1980 to 2017 were Nevada (up 1,080 percent); Georgia (up 945 percent); North Carolina (up 771 percent); Virginia (up 488 percent); Tennessee (up 441 percent); Arkansas (up 428 percent); Washington (up 410 percent); Florida (up 384 percent); South Carolina (up 379 percent); Utah (up 368 percent); and Oregon (up 356 percent).”

Welcome to the future of a bright blue electoral map.

There are ramifications to a nation that becomes so balkanized that it no longer has a firm cohesiveness of language for the rising generation. In “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson warned against any migration in large numbers because they “will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave … These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In proportion to their numbers, they will share with us the legislation.”

Keep in mind, given today’s education system in most Western countries, many more people outside English-speaking countries know English than in the past. It makes sense to prioritize those who do, especially when we have so many people who want to come here. Yet almost all of the top sending countries for immigrants have a very weak level of English proficiency. In addition, we are clearly not assimilating those who have already come into the English language because we refuse to make English the official language for government paperwork. Unlike in past generations, we mollycoddle reverse assimilation.

This is another issue the GOP views as politically untouchable, but in fact it is a super-majority issue in favor of the conservative position. At least until the fundamental transformation is complete, the overwhelming majority of voters still want to protect the English language even if they can agree on few other issues. Why are Republicans not immediately uniting behind the Raise Act and making English the official language?

With a country that is more divided than ever before, our common language is perhaps the last characteristic we all share … but for how much longer?


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Author: Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.