20060530 david frum
Commentator David Frum - 


Kai Ryssdal: Assuming the Senate keeps to its schedule, majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada's promising a key vote on the immigration bill tomorrow. And reform will keep limping along or it will be dead for now.

Either way, commentator David Frum says legalizing millions of would-be immigrants has some poor side-effects. Literally.

David Frum: An estimated 40 million immigrants have arrived in the United States since 1970. One-third of them illegally.

Most of them are looking to better their lives through work. But when the United States imports immigrants, it imports not just willing hands. It imports something else too: poverty.

Unlike pre-1970 immigrants, post-1970 immigrants have tended to stay poor for decades after their arrival in the United States. More than one-third of all the people living in immigrant households in the United States are poor. And more than one-fifth of all the poor people in the United States are immigrants.

It's no mystery why this should be so. Three-quarters of the post-1970 immigrants come from Mexico and Central America. These post-1970 immigrants are far less educated and far less skilled than the pre-1970 immigrants were. One-third of all the post-1970 immigrants have not even completed high school. And illegals are the least educated and skilled of all.

The warning signs strongly suggest that the children and grandchildren of the post-1970 immigrants will lag behind for generations. Barely half of all Hispanic youngsters graduate from high school on time. Half of all Hispanic babies are born to unmarried mothers.

The biggest American domestic policy failure of the past two decades has been the crumbling of the social and economic status of the poorer half of the population. Their wages are declining, their families are disintegrating, their health care is deteriorating and the gap between them and the wealthier half of the population is steadily widening.

Conservatives and liberals differ about how best to address these problems. The left emphasizes unions and social programs. The right thinks the answer will be found by strengthening marriage and improving education.

But if there's one thing that both sides should agree on, it is this: If you have a problem you don't know how to solve, stop making it worse by admitting so many unskilled migrants.

Ryssdal: David Frum is a resident scholar at The American Enterprise Institute.