More than 35 million immigrants, both legal and illegal, are living in the United States, according to a report released this week by the independent research group Center for Immigration Studies. The report says many of these immigrants are poorly educated and lack health care insurance.
The Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates tougher policies on illegal immigration, reports nearly eight million new immigrants have settled in the United States in the last five years. That's the largest five-year increase in American history, the report says.
The author of the report, Steven Camarota, says immigrants account for 12-percent of the total population, and 31 percent of them have not completed high school. He says that nearly 19 percent of immigrants are living in poverty, not because of unwillingness to work, but because of the low level of their education.
"A very large body of research shows that the best predictor of how immigrants will do in the United States is how much education they have when they come," he noted. "That is true actually of natives, too, I should point out -- how much you make, whether you use welfare, whether you end up in poverty -- all those things are heavily impacted by your education level."
Mr. Camarota says there is very good evidence that immigrants do better the longer they live in the United States because their incomes increase and more begin receiving healthcare coverage. But closing the poverty gap, he says, remains a challenge.
"It takes about 20 years for immigrant poverty rates to roughly match those of natives," he explained. "That is, immigrants who came in 20 years ago now by 2005 seem to have roughly the same rates of poverty as natives."
Douglas Rivlin, spokesperson for the immigrant advocacy group National Immigration Forum, says the best way for immigrants to prosper in America and close the poverty gap is to have legal status. He is urging leaders to update the laws so the flow of immigrants to America happens in a safe and legal manner.
"It's obvious we're experiencing a wave of immigration, but our laws regulating this flow are seriously broken and out of date, to the point that half of the current flow is happening outside the legal system," said Mr. Rivlin. "Folks who lack legal status have a harder time standing up for themselves on the job site, have a harder time joining unions, have a harder time negotiating their way through this economy."
Mr. Rivlin says what has really changed over time is not the immigrants, but America's welcome. He says while some immigrants are given full participation in the United States, many others are not.
"That kind of two-tiered system of keeping some immigrants down and keeping as many immigrants as possible out, is a recipe of disaster, and not consistent with who we are as a nation, that is both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws," he added.
The Center for Immigration Studies says immigrants with little education are increasing job competition for the poorest American workers and are increasing the numbers of people needing government assistance. But immigration advocacy groups like the National Immigration Forum argue the foreign-born population contributes significantly to the county's success by helping a number of job sectors to thrive.