Sanford Professors Scrutinize Immigration Policy, Recession’s Effects on Immigrants

The economic downturn has contributed to a slowdown in the rate of immigration and has had a disproportionate impact on immigrants relative to natives, according to a new report written by Sanford School of Public Policy Professor Jacob Vigdor. On October 6 the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation released the report, the second annual “Index of Immigrant Assimilation.” The index provides the most detailed estimates to date of the assimilation levels of immigrant groups in the United States and analyzes the effect of the recession on immigrants in the United States.

Also this week, The Brookings-Duke Immigration Policy Roundtable, a joint project of The Brookings Institution and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke, released a report called “Breaking the Immigration Stalemate: From Deep Disagreements to Constructive Proposals. “It includes recommendations designed to “address the most vexing and controversial issues stymieing immigration reform.”

The report was the culmination of months of discourse among the roundtable, whose members included think tank analysts, political and policy entrepreneurs, community leaders, former government officials and academics from various disciplines. Noah Pickus, the Nannerl O. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute of Ethics at Duke University and Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Sanford School, was a co-convenor of the roundtable.

Vigdor’s assimilation index is a quantitative measure based on a combination of decennial Census Bureau Data and the annual American Community Survey. It measures the degree of similarity or distinction between the native-born and foreign-born populations of the United States on a 0 to 100 scale. The index is recalculated annually with up-to-date data.

Key findings include:

  • Mexicans immigrants continue to be the least assimilated ethnic group.
  • Changes in policy have placed new hurdles on the path to citizenship but immigrants remain just as likely to pursue this path.
  • Assimilation declined in the four largest destination areas – Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and Washington, DC.
  • The rate of English learning among immigrants without any English skills appears lower than a century ago.

To read the Index of Immigrant Assimilation, visit

Read Vigdor’s related editorial: “What should immigrants do when they get here?” first published in The Washington Examiner on Oct. 7, 2009.

More on the The Brookings-Duke Immigration Policy Roundtable: