Don’t blame immigrants” for low literacy


Why progressives cannot blame “legal immigrants” for low literacy in the United States

Recently, some progressives attribute the rising illiteracy rates in the United States to immigrants, citing factors such as undiagnosed disabilities (e.g., dyslexia), poor English and literacy skills, and insufficient English classes for immigrants.

In 2023, data indicate a continuous literacy decline, partly blamed on 32% of non-US-born citizens.

In other words, a substantial percentage of illiteracy comes from non-English speaking countries, affecting literacy rates in the motherland. [Proliteracy]

1. “Legal immigrants” are more educated

Legal immigrants have contributed to the literacy rate of America despite a number of them entering the country with a “literacy gap.”

  • In 2019, about 52% of working-age immigrants (age 25–64) who had lived in the U.S. for five years or less had bachelor’s or graduate degrees. [MPI]
  • From 1990 to 2020, immigrants with higher education grew more than twice the rate of the same population among U.S. born children of immigrants. [Migration Policy]
  • In 2022, data show that immigrants, particularly Asians, are the most educated and have the highest household income average compared to whites, blacks, and Hispanics. [U.S. Census 2019]
  • Asia, having higher literacy rates, is the second-largest region of birth for U.S. immigrants after Latin countries before 2012.
Index Mundi: The literacy rate of adults (% of people ages 15 and up) in South Asia continues to increase.


“Legal Immigrants” from the 1970s to 2005

Immigrants who pass eligibility criteria generally have acceptable to high literacy rates. These “legal immigrants” have steadily increased since the 1970s and peaked around 2005. [Pew]

Alongside the migrant population increase was a slow but steady rise in literacy.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term assessments in reading and math for 9, 13, and 17-year-olds shows gradual improvements in reading and math from 1970 until 2012. [NAEP 1971-2012]

Under President Obama and President Biden’s terms, eligibility criteria, such as academic skills, no longer mattered for illegal aliens entering the country.


2. Immigrant eligibility dissolves under Presidents Obama and Biden

A steady decline in literacy from 2012 to present

The NCES data indicate that the nation’s literacy began to decline after 2012. By 2016, SAT scores were so bad that it had to reduce the number of questions and make essays optional to improve passing averages.

During President Obama’s two terms (2009 to 2017), an estimated 5.7 million unauthorized immigrants entered the U.S., disregarding eligibility criteria such as education and literacy.

Under President Joe Biden’s border policy, the influx of illegal immigrants surged again in 2022, with approximately 6 million undocumented crossings in his first two years in office alone.

Most of the “asylum seekers” do not speak English, which has impacted current literacy rates. However, there are other factors that have influenced the decline.


NAEP long-term trend (1971-2020) shows a gradual increase in reading scores until 2012, when it began to decline during the term of President Obama. During his tenure, illegal Immigration became more relaxed.
Asian immigrants outpaced other ethnicities until 2012 at around 36 million. Hispanics outnumbered other immigrants in 2022 at about 64 million. Mexican immigrant numbers are higher towards the end of President Biden’s term. (Graph: MPI; U.S. Census 2022)


3. Critical factors that influenced the growing illiteracy

If immigrants were to blame for the declining literacy, a significant portion would have to be placed on illegal immigrants during the Obama and Biden era when eligibility criteria were non-existent.

But it’s not entirely the fault of non-English speakers, but these other factors:


(A CBP Officer processes an incoming passenger at the Newark International Airport. Photo: RawPixel)

4. Positive Immigration is good for the country

Growing illiteracy cannot be attributed to “legal immigrants,” as most of them have degrees and are literate, whose American-born children are also well-educated.

The hope is that the influx of new unvetted immigrants will experience better education, which will help uplift their lives and improve literacy in the country.


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