Insightful profile of an immigrant family

This Sunday’s NY Times Magazine contains an article on a Filipino immigrant family in Houston. Having read tons about immigration in the past 15 years, this article best captures in few words some truths about immigration.

The U.S. has by far the largest flow of permanent immigrants in the world. Note the word “permanent.” The article relates how a Filipino family switched from temporary immigration in the Persian Gulf to permanent immigration to the U.S. An underlying problem for the U.S. is that we do not know how to do — we feel very ambivalent about — temporary immigration, even though historically much of the former Mexican wave of immigration (declining since the 2000s) to the U.S. was in reality temporary in intent.

Permanent immigration is a multi-generational investment by both the host country and the immigrating households. Think of your image of immigration: most likely there a multi-generational dimension when you consider individuals you have known. The NY Times article addresses three generations. People living on the coasts have been used to the multi-generational story for years.

Immigrants are among the more ambitious within their country of origin. This Filipino family reflects that. This raises the issue of talent drain from the country of origin (which goes well beyond doctors).

The Trump administration has defined immigration opposition around somewhat manufactured law enforcement crises, and the Democratic presidential candidates are drinking the Trump cool-aid by focusing on law enforcement issues. Not a single one has articulated a sound vision for immigration.

Below the somewhat manufactured law enforcement crisis (which Dems including the Vermont congressional delegation have bought into) is an important underlying concern — it used to be called assimilation, but some years ago I began to see it as a question of civil (or civic) culture. U.S. born people want immigrants to have dual parent households, speak English, go to school, work, separate their trash, show up at community meetings, etc. Cultural expressions such as Cinco de Mayo and Asian dance performances are pleasant embellishments. You can see much of this work out in this article through the lens of young sisters and their parents.

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