- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

New numbers from the Census Bureau tell us that American citizens or, to be more accurate, American residents drive more cars than they did 10 years ago. They make longer commutes from larger homes with bigger mortgages to more plentiful jobs, clinched, it would seem, by having earned more high school and college diplomas. If more is better, the American dream appears to be within the reach of greater numbers of people than ever.
Other indicators are up. Since 1990, a whopping 13.3 million immigrants have arrived in this country, making up nearly half of the nation's estimated 30.5 million foreign-born residents. These new millions more than expected and considerably more than the 8.7 million immigrants who arrived in the 1980s have boosted the number of foreign-born residents to 11 percent, the highest percentage since early in the last century.
It's not, of course, for the Census Bureau to weigh the significance of this massive (and ongoing) population influx. That is a task for the nation's citizens and their representatives, however reluctant they may be to debate the subject even now as the Bush administration prepares to extend some form of legal status to as many as 6 million to 9 million "undocumented" immigrants.
But the Census Bureau released another figure this week that further defines the scope of what may lie ahead. The percentage of American residents who don't speak English at home (and may or may not speak English on the job) has reached about 18 percent, up four points from 1990.That means that as the 21st century begins, nearly one in five people must confront sizable, even insurmountable, cultural, educational and professional barriers. (In such border states as Texas and New Mexico, the number rises to 32 percent and 35.5 percent respectively; in California, it hits 39.5 percent. ) How to lower these barriers how to assimilate these populations is an urgent national concern.
But how? This is one of the many basic questions still requiring answers, from whether immigration levels should be checked or permitted to continue to rise, to how our education system should go about schooling its newest citizens. First, however, these questions must actually be asked which most Americans seem loathe to do. To some extent, though, these new Census statistics speak for themselves. For a significant and fast-growing segment of the population, assimilation not to mention all those diplomas, jobs, cars and houses the Census tallies may never be. This reality may not be a part of the American dream, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't wake up to it.

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