National Data | The College Educated Illegal and Other Myths
June 23, 2005, 05:00 AM
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A just-released Pew Hispanic Center study, "Unauthorized Migrants: Numbers and Characteristics," by Jeffrey S. Passel, has provided wiggle room for immigration enthusiasts by implying that illegal aliens—now apparently "unauthorized migrants" in Pewspeak—are "like most Americans" in terms of education, to quote one gushing press account:

"Around a quarter of the unauthorized population has some college education and the numbers of high school degree holders – over half – among the subset is greater than that of their documented peers." [Source: Brendan Coyne, Undocumented Immigrants Live Like Most Americans, Study Says, The New Standard, June 17, 2005.]

Of course, the Pew study has to concede that nearly half (45 percent) of the recent illegal population has not completed high school, as opposed to less than a tenth (9 percent) of native-born Americans. And remember, that includes troubled U.S. minorities—native-born whites are even less likely to drop out. [See Table 1]

But do one out of four illegal border crossers really have "some college?" Do one-half have HS degrees?

Not really: A neat bit of statistical legerdemain forced these results.

Between 25 to 40 percent of the individuals counted as "unauthorized" in the Pew report are actually "overstays"—persons admitted on temporary visas who either stay beyond the expiration date of their visa or otherwise violate the terms of their admission.

This group includes high-tech workers admitted under the H-1b visa program, medical doctors with J-1 visas, and even tourists who travel here for the express purpose of seeking asylum in the United States.

Hardly your middle-of-the-night border crosser.

Many of these highly educated yet unauthorized persons get green cards and become naturalized citizens. Others return home to work at jobs outsourced from the U.S. Probably few remain "unauthorized" for more than a decade.

This later point also helps explain the upbeat, albeit bogus, trend in educational attainment claimed by the Pew researchers:

"…..the undocumented immigrant population is becoming increasingly educated. Newly entered immigrants are increasingly coming from more educated segments of their home countries, with most possessing more education than their legal counterparts who have been in the U.S. for ten years or more."

If, after ten years the college-educated illegals are no longer illegal, they necessarily leave behind the classic illegal immigrants—or EWIs, Entries Without Inspection to use another Pew euphemism.

That's why the average educational level of newest "undocumented immigrants" is above that of the long-term undocumented.

So what's the real story? The Census Bureau lumps legal and illegal immigrants together. By its count, as analyzed by Harvard's George J. Borjas ("The Top Ten Symptoms of Immigration," Center For Immigration Studies, November 1999.), in 1960 the newest arrivals into the United States were better educated than natives. By the end of the 20th century, the newest arrivals had two fewer years of schooling.

As a result of this growing education gap, the relative wages of successive immigrant waves also fell. At the time of entry, the newest immigrants in 1960 earned 13 percent less than natives. By 1998 the newest immigrants earned 34 percent less.

Statistical chicanery aside, the plain fact is that the relative education and incomes of successive cohorts of immigrants have deteriorated.

And the collapse of our southern border is making the matter worse.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.