Hispanic immigrants and their children lag far behind other migrant populations in the U.S. when it comes to developing proficiency in English, according to a new analysis from a Washington immigration policy think tank.
About two-thirds of Hispanic immigrants who have been in the U.S. for at least 15 years can be considered “functionally illiterate” in English, says independent public policy analyst Jason Richwine. In his report for the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative-leaning nonprofit that advocates lower levels of immigration, he looked at data from a literacy test administered to more than 8,000 Americans from 2012 and 2014 and discovered some worrying results.
Richwine found that 67 percent of first-generation Hispanics scored at the “below basic” level on the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) test of English proficiency. In contrast, just 22 percent of non-Hispanic immigrants who had been in the U.S. for at least 15 years were at the “below basic” level of literacy.
Individuals at that level possess only a simple vocabulary and sentence comprehension, and they cannot complete more complex tasks such as reading multiple pages of a document or making inferences from charts and graphs. While Hispanic immigrants, who are poorer and less educated than the overall immigrant population when they arrive in the U.S., can be expected to struggle with English comprehension, the report found that literacy problems persist beyond the first generation.
The children of Hispanic immigrants score at the 34th percentile on the PIAAC test, and 22 percent test at the “below basic” level. Performance actually worsens in the third generation: nearly a quarter — 24 percent — of the grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants failed to score above the lowest English literacy rating. Those results suggest that Hispanic immigrants, compared to the overall immigration population, may not be assimilating as well as scholars and lawmakers believe.
“The importance of English literacy cannot be overstated,” Richwine wrote. “Without language proficiency, immigrant families will find it difficult to succeed in the mainstream of American society, and high rates of English illiteracy may be a sign of poor immigrant assimilation. Policymakers should take note.”
Read the full report here.
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