On May 6 The Heritage Foundation, a conservative, independent, tax-exempt Washington think tank, published a study estimating the taxpayer burden caused by undocumented immigrants, spurring knee-jerk claims of racism—leveled against the GOP, not the Heritage Foundation—from liberal media personalities.
The controversy focuses not on the study itself, but rather on a separate assertion made by one of the authors of the study years before he started working at Heritage.
The main thrust of the Heritage study,The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer, is quantifying what the taxpayer cost would be for the comprehensive immigration reform bill presented by the bipartisan group of senators known as the "Gang of Eight": a staggering $6.3 trillion. But instead of talking about the report's claims and proposed alternate solutions, critics have homed in on report co-author Jason Richwine—and his doctoral dissertation, written four years ago at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, which posited that Latino immigrants have lower IQs and that the gap persists over several generations. In it, Richwine advocated selecting higher-IQ immigrants.
Heritage Foundation logo from Delmarva.Dealings via Flickr
MSNBC host and leading liberal media voice, Rachel Maddow, not one to shy away from stirring up her base attacks, referred to it as an exercise in Republican racism. Sure, Maddow, like all other professional polemicists—yes, including Hannity, Limbaugh, whoever—earns her substantial livelihood from creating controversy. The more strident, tendentious, and long-lived the controversy—even better yet if one polemicist attacks another polemicist—the more of an audience they get. Maddow assumes all Latinos are low-skill immigrants.
But what I find even more offensive is this: Not only is Maddow ignoring the salient facts of the Heritage study, she tars as racists any individuals who vote Republican, and she also misleads her viewers into thinking that the Republican Party and the Heritage Foundation are the one and the same—which they are not. One is a political party, the other is an independent research and educational institution, which, by its tax-exempt status, is prohibited from supporting political candidates. While the GOP needs to do a better job showcasing their connection to Latinos (for instance, few people realize that four out of the five women state governors are Republicans, including Susana Martinez, whose parents are Mexican), Heritage’s research and conclusions should be recognized as their own, not the GOP’s.
You will find that the IQ of immigrants is not mentioned at all in the Heritage study. It does not touch on the subject. Richwine resigned his post at Heritage under pressure, and Heritage made a public response, issuing the following statement,
"We welcome a rigorous, fact-based debate on the data, methodology, and conclusions of the Heritage study on the cost of amnesty. Instead, some have pointed to a Harvard dissertation written by Dr. Jason Richwine. Dr. Richwine did not shape the methodology or the policy recommendations in the Heritage paper; he provided quantitative support to lead author Robert Rector. The dissertation was written while Dr. Richwine was a student at Harvard, supervised and approved by a committee of respected scholars. The Harvard paper is not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings do not reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation or the conclusions of our study on the cost of amnesty to U.S. taxpayers, as race and ethnicity are not part of Heritage immigration policy recommendations."
More important than any study that any think tank may come up with is the fact that the immigration reform bill itself is 844 pages long--and, as of the writing of this article, more than three hundred amendments have been added to it. It’s impossibly complicated: I’m not even halfway finished reading the initial bill, and haven’t started on the amendments. If I, having spent time combing through the document, still don't understand what's being proposed, how much does the general public know? And, frankly, how much do the legislators themselves even know? To further complicate matters, the House is coming up with its own bill.
Is policy created by what academics say in their doctoral dissertations? No. Are laws built by talk show hosts, no matter how big their audiences? No. What matters is what policies and laws the government enacts, and we should be cautious when watershed laws are rushed through.
But then there is the issue of racism itself. When talking about race and immigration, we must acknowledge that we each have our assumptions about race, and that they differ. I share Ta-Nehisi Coates’s opinion that race is a social construct. As an American born and raised in Puerto Rico (all Puerto Ricans are American citizens from birth), I could not care less what expectations are placed on me by strangers who feel they must judge me primarily on my island of origin. What I DO care about are my own and my family’s expectations, needs, values and priorities, and how I meet the challenges that life presents. Quite frankly, I have been welcomed more openly by more Republicans than Democrats, and I’m now running for Princeton Municipal Council as a Republican. If elected, I’ll be the first Latina in Princeton history to hold that office.
So, my advice to you, dear reader, is the following: When the polemicists get going, go to the source. Analyze the data, review the methodology, make a substantial argument for your case. Heritage’s research should be examined and debated under the most rigorous standards—as Heritage itself has requested. And, most important of all, make the elected officials answer for the policies they implement.
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