A finding of interest to Catholics and others who believe that open borders are good because immigrants are mostly Hispanic Catholics and “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande”: increased English use by immigrants leads to teen sexual activity. The numbers are impressive. Among Hispanic teenagers in Arizona, 13.6% of Spanish speakers, 24.4% of bilinguals, and 30.7% of English speakers have engaged in sexual intercourse. (The rate for whites is the same as the rate for bilingual Hispanics.)
Given the nature of discussions in the social sciences it’s not surprising that all this is treated as a big mystery, part of the general “healthy immigrant paradox” that Hispanics coming to the United States are healthier than second- and third-generation U.S. residents from the same countries. One researcher, apparently determined to stay on message, did find it in herself to say that the problem is that “[a]s a culture, we have problems with openly discussing the whens and ifs of sex with our children … This is one of the outcomes of that.” I don’t think anybody has to believe her even though she’s a researcher. She’s just one voice, after all, and there must be some limit to what we’re required to swallow.
Since the experts haven’t agreed on a firm answer I’ll propose one of my own that may have some relevance to the “paradox” that after several decades in-country immigrant populations end up worse off in important ways than either natives or new arrivals. Sexual conduct, like other aspects of social and moral life that have to do with well-being, is heavily influenced by culture. Culture is always particular. A particular culture is a generally coherent and authoritative complex of attitudes, understandings, habits, loyalties and whatnot. Large-scale immigration normally breaks up such patterns and so degrades the ability of culture to function. That applies especially to immigrants but also to the native population. The more open the society the greater the effect will be. (Multiculturalism can be viewed as a moralistic effort by “open society” fanatics to equalize the disadvantages for both sides.) It follows that large-scale immigration is likely to degrade social and moral life by blotting out informal standards, and the degradation is likely to increase as assimilation goes forward. That effect will apply regardless of how virtuous the immigrants or host society may be. Neocon immigration enthusiasts point out that assimilation still works: the children of Chinese immigrants like the same pop culture American teenagers like. That’s believable, but is it a good thing? It may be if we want the things that unsupervised teenagers pick up from a radically commercialized and bureaucracy-ridden environment to be the basis of our national way of life, but perhaps not otherwise.
The Arizona finding incidentally casts light on a Biblical point that ought to be a bit mysterious for many Catholic immigration enthusiasts. When Paul visited Athens, and found that the people weren’t Christians, he didn’t propose to remedy the situation by moving large numbers of Levantine Christians there. Instead, he tried to Christianize the people already there by persuading them of the truth of Christianity by reference to their existing concerns and understandings. Quite possibly he thought it was the genius of Christianity to transform peoples through conversion—thus letting grace perfect nature—rather than transform localities through invasion. Catholic leaders may want to consider the point.