Rick Sanchez: Remove The Bias And Let Latinos Get In The Conversation

Each and every day, sometimes several times a day, there are segments on cable news about the immigration debate. To be sure, it’s a topic that engenders passion on both sides.

Immigration is both very important and very personal to U.S. Hispanics. According to a Fox News Latino poll conducted last year prior to the general election, nearly half of the Latino voters polled say they take offense at the term “illegal immigrant.” In this, they’re not alone. Just last month, The Associated Press Stylebook recommended against the use of the term “illegal immigrant” by journalists — the thinking being that the term "illegal" should describe an action, not used to describe a person.

The immigration debate is already emotionally charged and colored enough by political rhetoric on each side. We don’t need groups like the Heritage Foundation throwing gasoline on the fire. We don’t need studies grounded in racist and wrong philosophies.

— Rick Sanchez

I suppose Hispanics should be grateful that somebody (heck, anybody) took the time to ask their opinion on immigration because it rarely happens. If you watch most news shows, you’ll see that Latinos are rarely invited as guests to discuss or weigh in on the immigration debate.

(While Latinos make up roughly 17 percent of the U.S. population, a review of guests on 13 evening cable news shows on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC last month by Media Matters reveals that these networks overwhelmingly host male and non-Hispanic white guests, with Fox News scoring the highest at 3 percent, while CNN and MSNBC followed with only 2 percent.)

The Fox News Latino poll showed that a whopping 85 percent say they want undocumented immigrants to be given an opportunity to legalize their status. And 82 percent believe undocumented workers do the work that many Americans will not do and that they help expand our economy.

Are they right? Of course they are. Ask any economist worth his pedigree and he will tell you that to remain vibrant, our country needs a young and motivated labor force.

Unfortunately, economists, like Latinos, are also too often left out of the immigration debate in favor of politicians pundits. Not only would economists make the immigration discussion more interesting, they would also make it smarter — unless of course they’re employed by the Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation, a highly regarded think tank that used to stand for the best of conservative free-market ideals, has now weighed in on immigration. However, their “study” is, at best, questionable and seemingly based on a discredited pseudo-intellectual theory.

The logic, methodology and premise of their report is so tortured, so biased, that one has to wonder if the Heritage Foundation believed that the end would simply justify the means — that the desire to substantiate a particular position on immigration forced xenophobic, short sighted, and questionable techniques to reach that result. Far from contributing to this country’s conversation on immigration, the Heritage Foundation has debased it.

This flawed and suspect report was co-authored by Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst Jason Richwine, who resigned last week over the resulting furor. The report came to the surprising conclusion that immigration reform would cost us $6.3 trillion. It’s a pronouncement that is so far removed from the basic principals of economic understanding and common sense that is stretches credulity.

Worse is how Richwine came to it. His methodology was grounded in a belief that there is a connection between race (and genetics) and IQ. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is: the 1994 book The Bell Curve, roundly criticized and since discredited, posited this same theory. These ideas, long thought to be relegated to the dustbin of pseudo-science, were given new life by Richwine, who asserted in his 2009 doctoral dissertation at Harvard that Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs –and are inherently less intelligent– than whites.

In his dissertation, Richwine wrote that the U.S. government should grant immigrant visas based on IQ and that, “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.”

He also posited that “…too many Hispanic natives are not adhering to standards of behavior that separate middle and working class neighborhoods from the barrio.”  It’s little wonder that Richwine is now being criticized by both the left and the right.

Alex Nowrasteh is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute. Here is what he told The Washington Post about the Heritage Foundation’s report. “They employed a statistical method that no other economist would use to measure things like these, and on such an important policy issue. And they predictably reached terrible results.”

Not only was Richwine’s report wrong on race, it was also wrong on economics. The simple fact is that our economy can’t grow –and won’t grow– without a young labor force of immigrants. The median age of the U.S. workforce has been steadily moving back.

It is estimated that by 2020, almost 25 percent of the U.S. workforce will consist of workers 55 or older. A 2010 report from the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association showed that Georgia farmers had lost 50 percent of their crops because of a limited workforce.

The immigration debate is already emotionally charged and colored enough by political rhetoric on each side. We don’t need groups like the Heritage Foundation throwing gasoline on the fire. We don’t need studies grounded in racist and wrong philosophies. What we need are fewer politicians bloviating –and less politicization of this issue– and more dispassionate, fair analysis, economic and otherwise.

And most of all, what we need is to grow the conversation to include Hispanics themselves. As we debate the future of Latinos in America, we deserve –and need– a seat at the table.