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The high rate of illegitimate births to immigrants is a warning to American leaders not to expect help building family values from such newcomers, according to a new study released today by the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C.
Hispanic immigrants have seen the largest increase in out-of-wedlock births, from 19 percent in 1980 to 42 percent in 2003, according to the study entitled “Illegitimate Nation,” authored by Dr. Steven A. Camarota, Director of Research at CIS.
Camarota notes that illegitimate births in the native population have increased as well, from 19 percent in 1980 to 35 percent in 2003.
For immigrants overall, both legal and illegal, out-of-wedlock birth rates have been comparable to illegitimate birth rates among the native population, increasing from 13 percent in 1980 for immigrants (both legal and illegal) to 32 percent in 2003.
The higher rate of illegitimate births among Hispanic immigrants is important, Camarota notes, because births to Hispanic mothers now account for 59 percent of all births to foreign-born mothers.
“How the children of Hispanic immigrants fare is one of the most critically important questions we face as a nation with regard to the integration of children from immigrant families,” Camarota wrote. “The birth rate data indicate that a very large share of these children are starting life at a significant social disadvantage.”
Camarota found that illegitimate births tend to associate with the low education levels of the mothers. In 2003, 65 percent of illegitimate births to Hispanic immigrants were to mothers who lacked a high school diploma.
In 2003, for the first time, the absolute number of illegitimate births among Hispanic immigrants exceeded the absolute number of illegitimate births among African-Americans.
Camarota cited the extensive social science research that shows illegitimacy and family breakdown have concerned policy makers, researchers, and the public for more than half a century, at least since Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 publication of what became known as “The Moynihan Report.”
“Research shows that children of unmarried parents are much more likely to live in poverty, have low academic achievement, and have higher high school dropout rates than those born to married persons,” Camarota commented.
“Run-ins with the law, drug use, and incarceration are all more common among children born to unmarried parents,” he continued. “Welfare use is also significantly higher for married families with illegitimate children. Infants born out of wedlock suffer higher mortality rates. Illegitimate children have been found to suffer from more-difficult-to-solve problems such as low levels of self esteem and self worth.”
Moreover, Camarota noted that children of unmarried parents are themselves at a higher risk of becoming out-of-wedlock parents themselves, setting up a generational perpetuation of the problem.
Camarota cited President Bush’s frequent statement that “family values do not stop at the Rio Grande.”
Keying from this claim, a major goal of Camarota’s study was to answer the following question: “Is one of the benefits of immigration that it will infuse the country with traditional family values?”
After reviewing the high rate of illegitimate births, especially among Hispanic immigrants, his answer was a resounding, “No.”
His conclusion was that illegitimate births to immigrants will add to a growing societal problem.
He wrote, “Children of immigrants born to immigrant parents will be at a higher risk for low academic achievement, criminality, weak attachment to the labor force, use of welfare, and all the other social problems the illegitimate children are at a higher risk to experience.”
Camarota concluded, “Immigrants are subject to the same social forces as everybody else, and illegitimacy is as big a problem among immigrants as it is for the rest of society. Thus, the idea that immigration will reinvigorate traditional family values is unrealistic.”
Camarota’s report is entitled “Illegitimate Nation: An Examination of Out-of-wedlock Births Among Immigrants and Natives.” The report will be available with charge on the website of the Center for Immigration Studies.