“IQ and Immigration Policy” – a Response, Part 1

One of the authors of a recent Heritage Foundation report opposing immigration reform turns out to have written a 2009 Harvard Ph.D. thesis entitled “IQ and Immigration Policy.”  In that thesis, Jason Richwine argued that Hispanic immigrants and their children and grandchildren have lower average IQ scores than native-born whites.  Immigration by Hispanics who have relatively low IQ’s will harm the United States, he argues.  Mr. Richwine proposes that potential immigrants should be given IQ tests and allowed to immigrate only if they have relatively high IQ scores.

Mr. Richwine’s idea that Hispanics receive lower IQ test scores than native whites because of an immutable difference in intelligence sounds familiar.  In the past, arguments that particular groups should be excluded from the United States because they supposedly were less intelligent or otherwise inferior were mounted against Irish, Italian, Polish, and Jewish immigrants, among others.  All the claims that they had lower natural intelligence turned out to be false.  Richwine himself admits that in the early 20th century Eastern European immigrants looked like they had lower intelligence, based on test scores, but that difference disappeared over time, as Eastern European immigrants and their children and grandchildren integrated into American society, attended American schools, and gained some economic security.  (Mr. Richwine says that the test scores of European immigrants were low because of defects in the testing instruments.  He argues that there are no such defects in current tests.)  Mr. Richwine refuses to admit that the pattern that governed other immigrants is likely to be seen with respect to Hispanics as well.  (He argues that for Hispanics differences persist among immigrants’  children and grandchildren, so it is unlikely that the Hispanic immigrant experience will be similar to the experience of other groups.)  But it is not surprising that Hispanic immigrants, mainly of whom have very limited schooling, are barely literate, have worked from an early age, and have not been in school for many years when they would be tested, should score lower on standardized tests.  Nor is it surprising that their low-income children and grandchildren should score lower than more affluent native whites.  It is well-known that standardized tests measure socio-economic status as well as intellectual capacity.  But Mr. Richwine pays no attention to those issues.  He admits that only about half of the score on an intelligence test is related to any genetic trait.  But he discusses the IQ scores of Hispanics as if they are entirely due to an inherited and immutable difference in intelligence.

Clearly, Mr. Richwine’s  arguments can be used to support the worst kinds of racism and discrimination.  He does not seem particularly concerned about that, however.

And all of Mr. Richwine’s arguments have to do with the effect of immigration on native born whites.  It is as if only the opinions and welfare of white people matter.

It is unclear why we should listen to Mr. Richwine’s arguments about immigration policy, in the Heritage Foundation’s paper, when his ideas clearly stem from beliefs about Hispanics that are not carefully analyzed and lend themselves to racism and discrimination