Conservative Immigration Scholar: Black and Hispanic Immigrants Are Dumber Than European Immigrants

Jason Richwine, who coauthored a Heritage Foundation study on immigration, didn't just argue that certain minorities are dumber in his scholarship—he also said it at a public panel.

| Wed May 8, 2013 7:50 PM EDT

Jason Richwine, the coauthor of the conservative Heritage Foundation's controversial study on the supposed $6.3 trillion cost of comprehensive immigration reform, has received much attention and criticism for his 2009 Harvard dissertation that argued there was "a genetic component" to racial disparities in IQ. But this dissertation wasn't the first time Richwine had expressed such views publicly. In 2008, he told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute that "major" ethnic or racial differences in intelligence between the Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants who flocked to the United States at the turn of the 20th century and the immigrants coming to the US today justified severely restricting immigration.

Richwine's remarks, which he made as a resident fellow at AEI, did not receive much public notice at the time, but they go beyond the arguments presented in his 2009 dissertation. In that dissertation, "IQ and Immigration Policy," which was first reported by Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post, Richwine argued for restricting immigration based on IQ differences, which he believes are partially the result of genetic differences between ethnic groups. In the dissertation's acknowledgements, Richwine wrote that "no one was more influential" than AEI scholar Charles Murray, coauthor of the much-criticized book The Bell Curve, which argued that racial disparities in IQ are partially the result of genetic differences between races. After the Post broke the story about the dissertation, the Heritage Foundation distanced itself from Richwine's immigration reform study.

At the 2008 talk, Richwine said, "I do not believe that race is insurmountable, certainly not, but it definitely is a larger barrier today than it was for immigrants in the past simply because they are not from Europe." The 2008 AEI panel focused on a book by immigration reform opponent Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors strict limits on all immigration. Krikorian's book, The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal, began with Krikorian stating that the difference between modern immigration and immigration at the turn of the century "is not the characteristics of the newcomers but the characteristics of our society."

Richwine firmly disagreed with part of Krikorian's assessment. The "major difference," he said, was the race of the immigrants: "There are real differences between groups." He contended that today's nonwhite immigrants are dumber. "Race is different in all sorts of ways, and probably the most important way is in IQ," he said. "Decades of psychometric testing has indicated that at least in America, you have Jews with the highest average IQ, usually followed by East Asians, then you have non-Jewish whites, Hispanics, and then blacks. These are real differences, and they're not going to go away tomorrow, and for that reason we have to address them in our immigration discussions and our debates."

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After he made his remarks in 2008, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that "Richwine's remarks were warmly received on white nationalist blogs."

During the AEI panel, Richwine cited history to justify his views on race and assimilation. The assimilation of Irish, Italians, and Jews, Richwine said, didn't mean that today's nonwhite immigrants would also assimilate. "I think that there are a number of counterexamples here already in America. We have blacks, we have American Indians, and even early Mexican Americans, who have been living in the country for a long time, and who have not assimilated into the cultural mainstream as typified by white Americans," Richwine said. "Obviously I think with blacks we know that, at least in my opinion, I think black and white culture has if anything has diverged in the last 50 years rather than converged. American Indians have been here a long time, and we still have Indian reservations." 

Richwine closed his remarks with what he called a thought experiment: "Imagine if early immigrants in the 20th century—say, the Italians, the Poles, the Jews, the Irish. Imagine if we replaced them with say, Australian Aborigines, Pakistanis, and Cambodians. Can we really say with any kind of rational argument that they today would be considered absolutely indistinguishable from the white majority, that there would be no cultural differences between them? I think it's very difficult to make that argument." No one at the event seemed bothered by Richwine's remarks—in fact, when he was finished, he received a smattering of applause from the audience.

Richard Alba, a sociology professor at the City University of New York and an author of several books on race and assimilation, called Richwine's remarks "appalling."

"Richwine conveniently overlooks the very disparate treatment that the groups he is singling out as nonwhite received both during their entry to US society and afterwards," Alba says. "This treatment has placed them in a very different situation from that of immigrants, whether we speak of the immigrants of a century ago or of today. Present-day immigrants are analogous to the immigrants of a century ago. In some ways, many are better off than those immigrants." Alba also notes that IQ tests were initially used to "prove" that immigrants from southern and eastern Europe in the early 20th century were intellectually inferior to other whites. "This inferiority was supposedly demonstrated even for Jews," he says. "As we know, the descendants of these supposedly low-IQ immigrant groups have turned out to be very successful."

At the 2008 event, even Krikorian disputed Richwine's argument. "The idea that European immigration somehow always represented something that was compatible and consistent and part of 'the we' is an anachronism," he says. "It's looking at America in 1965 and assuming that's what we always were. The fact is that second-generation Hispanic and Asian kids, who again, and this is the qualifier, who are middle class, speaking without an accent, have a job, they're white. The real divide in our society has always been black vs. nonblack, not white vs. nonwhite. And that is the challenge that we still face."

One of the criticisms of the Heritage study that Richwine coauthored with fellow Heritage scholar Robert Rector was that it undercounted current and future education levels of undocumented immigrants and likely increases in earnings stemming from legalization. That conclusion may be informed by Richwine's views on the intelligence of non-European immigrants.

Heritage says Richwine is "not available for interviews." But the group posted this statement on their website Wednesday afternoon: "We believe that every person is created equal and that everyone should have equal opportunity to reach the ladder of success and climb as high as they can dream."

Jason Richwine would likely disagree with that sentiment.

Here is the full transcript of Richwine's statement at the 2008 event:

Despite the fact that I like the book overall, I have to say that I disagree with the very first sentence of the book. That was the introduction. I'll just read very quickly: "What's different about immigration today as opposed to a century ago is not the characteristics of the newcomers but the characteristics of our society." I half agree with that. No argument at all from me that—our society has changed in ways that make it less amenable to assimilating immigrants, no doubt about it. But the argument that immigrants themselves are no different from the ones that came a hundred years ago I think is quite wrong. And I think that the major difference here is ethnicity, or race if you will. I think that race is important for two main reasons. One is that human beings as a species are a naturally tribal group of people. We have inside outside groups, we have families, for one example, family comes first in virtually every society. We tend to be very attuned to even small trivial differences between groups. I don't mean to suggest that I think this is a good thing. I wish we could be more universalist, but the reality is that we are not going to be that way and we should not be basing policy on that either.

The second reason I think that race is important, is that there are real differences between groups, not just trivial ones that we happen to notice more than we should. Race is different in all sorts of ways, and probably the most important way is in IQ. Decades of psychometric testing has indicated that, at least in America, you have Jews with the highest average IQ, usually followed by East Asians, then you have non-Jewish whites, Hispanics, and then blacks. These are real differences, and they're not going to go away tomorrow, and for that reason we have to address them in our immigration discussions and our debates. You can see that when you combine these two things, group differences in ability, combined with a natural tribal disposition, is going to create usually parallel cultures within a multiracial society, rather than an assimilated culture. And I think that is a major, major, obstacle to the assimilation of today's immigrants, because they are not from Europe, which is I think a major difference which Mark sort of tries to avoid discussing.

I know what the common response is here, and Mark mentions it in his book for a little bit. Which is they say something like the Irish used to be considered nonwhite and now they're white today, and the Sicilians were the same way. Could you imagine the Sicilians—well, they're white today. This is based on a syllogism that is fairly obviously false right? The syllogism if you work it out logically goes like this: It says, some people in the past who were thought to be unassimilable actually ended up being assimilated. Therefore everyone who we think of as unassimilable will be actually be assimilated later on. Obviously you can see the fallacy here, where you can't generalize this claim without evidence.

I think that there are a number of counterexamples here already in America, we have blacks, we have American Indians, and even early Mexican Americans, who have been living in the country for a long time, and who have not assimilated into the cultural mainstream as typified by white Americans. Obviously I think with blacks we know that, at least in my opinion, I think black and white culture has actually if anything diverged in the last 50 years rather than converged. American Indians have been here a long time, and we still have Indian reservations. And Mexican Americans, we tend to think of them as being here only recently, and I believe it's something like three quarters of them have been first or second generation immigrants today. But they've been around since the Mexican-American War. Several thousand families were already living in the areas that the United States acquired during that war. And they've been here ever since, and I don't think that they've been defined as white, certainly not by Europeans and really not by themselves either, except in the cases where they're trying to distinguish themselves from being black.

In fact, it's interesting that as part of the deal with Mexico, Mexican Americans were given a legal definition as white by the United States government, because they had to conform to the Naturalization Act which had reserved it to white people. Even that legal definition has not changed their status. I don't know if Mark is going to get a chance to respond directly to what I'm saying, but if he does, I think it would be a good place to start by answering a question I'm about to pose in the form of a thought experiment, which is just to imagine if early immigrants in the 20th century—say, the Italians, the Poles, the Jews, the Irish—imagine if we replaced all of them with, say, Australian Aborigines, Pakistanis, and Cambodians, imagine if they were the immigrants in the early part of the 20th century.  Can we really say with any kind of rational argument that they today would be considered absolutely indistinguishable from the white majority, that there would be no cultural differences between them? I think it's very difficult to make that argument. So I think that would be a good place to start. I see your triangulation attempt in the book when you say immigrants are no different than anyone else. It's helpful because at least you can say, I'm not like Richwine, and people like me. Nevertheless, I think it would be a lot healthier to discuss the racial issue here, because it's here, it's not going away, and we can't wish it away. I do not believe that race is insurmountable, certainly not, but it is definitely a larger barrier today than it was for immigrants in the past simply because they are not from Europe.

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