Gronbach: New Immigration Law and 'The Gangs of Arizona'

TheGangs of New York, a movie set in Manhattan in the 1860s, dealt with the violent conflict between different immigrant factions. The plot was simple: Basically, the last immigrants off the boats were at the bottom of the food chain and made to feel very unwelcome by the “real” Americans, who had arrived years earlier from different European countries.


Ethnic gangs fought bloody turf wars in a futile effort to maintain or gain dominance. The irony, of course, is the fact that over time, these ethnic factions intermarried and melted into the fabric of our great American immigrant-based culture.

The fighting was pointless, because immigrants assimilate, owing in large part to the wonderful public school system in the United States. Germans married Poles. Italians married Irish. Catholics married Protestants. People are people, and attractive young men and women are just that.

Recently, Arizona passed a law giving law enforcement unprecedented power to “check” the immigration status of anyone they deemed suspect of being an illegal alien. Check your civil liberties at the door, please. (The law is scheduled to take effect July 29, although the Obama adminstration has filed suit to stop it. A federal judge today will hold a hearing on the government's lawsuit and may decide whether to issue an injunction to stop the law from going into effect next week.)

Proponents say it’s necessary to control runaway illegal immigration and opponents say it’s a license for boldfaced racial/ethnic profiling of Latinos by police.

Either way, it is tantamount to a declaration of war. Naturally, tensions are mounting between the factions. Recent Pew Research Center findings (Pew Social and Demographic Trends 2010) shed light on what’s going on in Arizona and provide background to help us understand the implications of the new law.

In nationwide surveys conducted in 2008 and 2009, Pew found 23 percent of Americans said Hispanics were discriminated against “a lot” in society today. This percentage was higher than for any other group. Back in 2001, African-Americans held that distinction. Times are changing.

Does anyone remember the phrase “We don’t hire Irish”? This declaration appeared in store windows and factories throughout Boston and New York 100 years ago. Is that why the Irish became cops?

Along the same lines, immigrant Jews dominated the legal and medical professions, as well as entrepreneurial starts, because no one would hire them. And, of course, it would be hard to forget the forced racial segregation against African-Americans that was legally put to rest in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.

I am told that the name for stranger and enemy are the same in many primitive cultures and languages. So who have the intolerant relegated to the stranger/enemy status here in the US? They are easy to find.

Just look for the last immigrants off the boat or, in this case, over the border. It is the Latinos, mostly Mexicans. In a strange irony, even African-Americans who have suffered the effects of discrimination for centuries seem to have finally moved out of bigotry’s cross hairs.

For the first time, more than 50 percent of African-Americans, according to a Pew study released in January, said they believed things are getting better and that the economic and social divide between whites and blacks is narrowing. Not so for Latinos.

In a Pew survey released in April, it is clear that Latinos and the American public, in general, perceive that Latinos as a group are the new target for discrimination.

It is odd. You might think that we would have learned by now. We are a nation of immigrants. Being made up of people from all over the world is what makes the US so unique, strong and resilient. Some call it the immigrant gene.

We are fearless and hardworking and we want to improve. Immigrants don’t come here to take advantage of the work of others, but, rather, to take advantage of opportunity.

Immigrants tend to fill a void. They come when they are needed.

Latinos 'Saving our Butts' Demographically

Between 1965 and 1984, there was a significant drop in fertility rates in the United States. The net for the so-called Generation Xwas 11 percent, or nine million people smaller, than the Baby Boomergeneration, who were born between 1946 to 1964.

C. Sherburne | Photodisc | Getty Images

As Generation X members entered young adulthood, they simply could not supply the entry-level labor to our workforce because they lacked the critical mass to fill the footprint exited by the Boomers.

The unskilled job market went begging, and Latino immigrants answered the call and then some. Latino immigrants came to work and guess what? They are fearless, hardworking people who want more. They assimilate in record time, on average in 20 years. We would have trouble designing a better immigrant.

So what is the problem? Well instead of the gangs of New York, we now have the “gangs of Arizona.”

According to Pew, the levels of deportation have increased geometrically. And because of the limping economy, the opponents of immigration have found a willing audience. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of illegal Latino immigrants increased from three million in 1980 to almost 12 million in 2008. While the number of illegals has increased by a factor of four, the number of removals or deportations has jumped a whopping 2,000 percent—from 18,000 in 1980 to almost 360,000 in 2008.

In 2007, we broke a 50-year live birth record in the United States. In 1957, at the peak of the Baby Boomer generation, 4.3 million babies were born. In 2007, 4,317,000 babies were born here in the States. Twenty-five percent of the babies were precipitated by an ethnic faction that constitutes only 14 percent of our population. You guessed it, Latinos.

It is this level of fertility that put the US over the 2.2 replacement-level fertility necessary to sustain the culture and economy. Without the Latino contribution to fertility, we would be in the same boat as the demographically-doomed European Union. In short these frisky Latinos are saving our butts demographically.

Yes, we will all have darker complexions as intermarriage takes its course. Generation Y, born between 1985 and 2004, does not see color, and will lead the United States into a “raceless” future.

Latino Americans are currently concentrated in nine states in the South and West. They will disperse as opportunity calls. We desperately need them both culturally and economically. United States fertility is currently very poor in the Northeast and Midwest. So if you are diversity-adverse, get over it.

Kenneth W. Gronbach is a demographer, a futurist and the author of The Age Curve: How to Profit From the Coming Demographic Storm. He is also the principal of the KCG Direct, a generational marketing firm in Haddam, CT.