IMMIGRATION AND I.Q.

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Recently the Heritage Foundation, the most prominent conservative Washington, D.C. think tank, released its study of the proposed immigration bill.  It concluded the costs of adding 11 million mostly unskilled and poorly educated immigrants would cost the taxpayers an enormous $6.3 trillion over a decade. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/05/the-fiscal-cost-of-unlawful-immigrants-and-amnesty-to-the-us-taxpayer.  But much of the media’s attention was diverted by the fact that the co-author of the study, Dr. Jason Richwine, had written a doctoral dissertation concluding that Hispanic immigrants have, on average, lower IQ levels than other groups.  The relationship of ethnicity and IQ is politically incorrect if, as occurred here, minorities under-perform whites.  So Dr. Richwine was excoriated by left-of-center critics, the same people who attack conservatives and Republicans for “denying science” about global warming.  The critics were, if Richwine is correct, denying science.

Heritage does a lot of politically incorrect work, and it should have stood by the right of scholars to do politically incorrect work regardless of whether it endorses the results (which it didn’t).  Unfortunately, when the controversy arose, it made the fateful decision to sack Dr. Richwine rather than stand by him even though his controversial thesis had been written years before he joined the organization.

Here is one of the key conclusions from Dr. Richwine’s 2009 Harvard University dissertation:

“Mexican immigrants average in the mid-80’s [on IQ tests], other Hispanics are in the low 90’s, and Europeans in the upper 90’s, and Asians are in the low 100’s.  IQ scores go up slightly in the second generation, but the scores of Mexicans and other Hispanics remain well below those of whites, and the differences persist over several generations.”  Jason Richwine, IQ and Immigration Policy (Harvard University 2009).

The dissertation was accepted by three faculty members at the University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Richwine was awarded his doctorate of philosophy degree.  (One of the three was Prof. George J. Borjas, one of the nation’s preeminent labor economists who specializes in studying the effects of immigration.  He is an expert in some of our cases.)  Critics immediately denounced Dr. Richwine as espousing racist ideas, as if the entire question of IQ and immigration is taboo.  A Google search of “Jason Richwine racist” yields over 100,000 hits.

I have no idea if Dr. Richwine’s conclusions are correct.  But the idea that we should take IQ into account in our immigration policy is absolutely correct.  As I’ve written here many times, American immigration policy needs to be based on labor economics and long-term consequences.  This means we put aside the myth of America as the refuge for the world’s uneducated and unskilled masses.  This was our national immigration policy from 1887-1923 when the industrial revolution transformed the nation and the need for unskilled labor far outstripped our supply of workers.  Since 1923, immigration policy has looked at each potential immigrant on a case-by-case basis and assessed whether the person has relatives here (not a good basis for admission, in my opinion) or the person’s skill level is high enough to be attractive to employers.  If it is “racist” to look at IQ then it must also be “racist” to consider one’s skills.  The skills recognized by our immigration laws are those acquired through formal education, and formal education tends to favor more affluent groups at the expense of minority applicants.  The purpose of skilled immigration is to benefit the American economy.  So consideration of IQ is not so outrageous a concept.  Do Dr. Richwine’s critics want us to admit boatloads of immigrants without regard to their effect on unemployment rates, crime rates, and the likelihood they will go on public assistance?

Human beings may be born equal but when it comes to adult immigration, they are inherently unequal.  Some are productive and contribute more in taxes than they consume in benefits.  Some will become public charges.  This is the premise of the Heritage Foundation Study.  It concludes: “The children of unlawful immigrants, on average, will become net tax consumers rather than net taxpayers: the government benefits they receive will exceed the taxes they pay.”  What Dr. Richwine did is to explore why this is true.  We need to know why.