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Frum offensive on Mexican immigrants

By Rudy Ruiz, Special to CNN
  • Rudy Ruiz: Frum blames Mexican immigrants for workforce getting less literate and skilled
  • Ruiz says David Frum's argument is racist, inaccurate, irresponsible and unacceptable
  • Columnist selectively quoted from 2002 study; left out a key point, Ruiz writes
  • He writes Frum's op-ed was illogical and relied on unsupported assumptions

Editor's note: Rudy Ruiz founded, a site featuring multicultural political commentary; hosts a nationally syndicated Spanish-language radio show; and wrote a guide to success for immigrants, "¡Adelante!" (Random House). He is co-founder and president of Interlex, an advocacy marketing agency based in San Antonio, Texas.

(CNN) -- It's wrong to mischaracterize an entire group of Americans in an effort to prevent members of a culturally related group from ever having a chance at sharing in the American dream.

But that's exactly what conservative commentator David Frum is doing. According to Frum in his recent op-ed, "when Arizona police ask suspected illegal immigrants for IDs, they are protecting your grandchildren's economic future." Lamenting projections that the U.S. workforce is becoming less literate, less skilled and worse paid, Frum places the blame squarely on "one word: Immigration."

He elaborates: "Many Americans carry in their minds a family memory of upward mobility, from great-grandpa stepping off the boat at Ellis Island to a present generation of professionals and technology workers. This story no longer holds true for the largest single U.S. immigrant group, Mexican-Americans."

Citing a 2002 study by the Public Policy Institute of California as the basis for his attack not only on undocumented immigrants but on all Americans of Mexican descent, Frum states that "third-generation Mexican-Americans were no more likely to finish high school than second-generation Mexican-Americans. Fourth-generation Mexican-Americans did no better than third. If these results continue to hold, the low skills of yesterday's illegal immigrant will negatively shape the U.S. workforce into the 22nd century."

In the world according to Frum, the decline of America's workforce in terms of educational attainment and global competitiveness is because of Mexican-Americans. And by the way, not all of us or our ancestors got here illegally.

By implying, without any statistical proof, that most descendants of Ellis Island immigrants are now professionals and technology workers, Frum reveals that he is at best deluded or at worst disingenuous.

It propagates an environment of bigotry and false racial superiority.
--Rudy Ruiz

Since Mexican-Americans compose only 9 percent of the U.S. workforce, if this were the case, America's outlook wouldn't be so bleak. But by blaming Mexican-American immigrants exclusively for the decline of American labor and cobbling together incomplete statistics taken out of context, he is also making a racist argument which should be considered inaccurate, irresponsible and unacceptable in our civil discourse.

In positing that Mexican-Americans are a different kind of immigrant, a group that threatens America's economic future via its stalled progress, Frum commits two enormous errors. First, he conveniently omits a key point in the study that serves as the cornerstone of his argument. That same study clarifies:

"Enormous educational improvement takes place between first- and second-generation Mexican Americans. Indeed, average schooling levels are about three-and-a-half years higher for the second generation than for Mexican immigrants. Therefore, a large portion of the overall education deficit for Mexican Americans derives from the presence of large numbers of Mexican immigrants with very low education levels. The U.S.-born children of Mexican immigrants close most, but not all, of this education gap."

I ought to know. A second-generation Mexican-American born and raised on the border, I earned my bachelor's and master's degrees in public policy at Harvard and today I employ close to 40 professionals within my communications and media organization. Ellis Island, now a museum, is thankfully not the only gateway to the American dream.

Second, Frum compares a data-driven criticism of Mexican-American stagnation with a nostalgic illusion about the rosy fortunes of previous immigrant waves and their progeny. Absent is a fair and parallel comparative analysis of multigenerational progress that might justify this type of juxtaposition. It is simply assumed that earlier immigrant groups fared better. And it's implied that the only plausible explanation for why they did so was simply because they were not from Mexico.

There are no alternative explanations explored by Frum for the purported lack of Mexican-American progress: a changed economy, greater racial discrimination, limited access to opportunities because of legal status, decline in the quality of public education, and a widening gulf between rich and poor in our society.

Further, he ignores the likelihood that many of the most successful third- and fourth-generation Mexican-Americans may no longer identify themselves as such because they are highly acculturated or assimilated, thus leading to an artificially bleak view of the group's overall progress.

Frum's line of thinking is a perfect example of people who don't understand Latinos pontificating about our inner workings and role in America.

Don't listen to Frum. Listen to me. What could -- and should -- be seen as a complex, multifactoral domestic issue to be studied further for solutions, is instead being used as a nefarious argument against continued immigration by a specific group, smacking of racism, xenophobia, and cultural fear of the growing Latino population in America.

In his effort to oversimplify the issue and unabashedly support the Arizona immigration law by throwing all Mexican immigrants and their descendants under the Border Patrol bus, Frum also fails to acknowledge that the American workforce is not monolithic. We will always require a multi-tiered labor pool that includes people capable of performing those professional and technology jobs as well as workers willing to do the jobs that no one with an education or a sense of entitlement dares to touch. Bottom line: Our economy requires both types to thrive.

In the end, it may be tempting to simplify the immigration issue by knocking all Mexican-Americans, who make up two-thirds of the total Latino population.

But conscientious Americans, including Frum, must realize that this is a dangerous and slippery slope. It further conflates and confuses mainstream perceptions of undocumented immigrants and Latinos living legally in America.

It propagates an environment of bigotry and false racial superiority, which, in places like Arizona, is already at a boiling point. And it threatens not only the economic future of your grandchildren, whom Frum cares so deeply about, but the moral and social fabric of the nation they inherit from us. Because regardless of the hyphens that separate us, we should all be united as Americans.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rudy Ruiz.