Debate about integration of new immigrants and challenges for the U.S. focuses largely on Hispanic Americans and specifically Mexicans. This discussion has been wide ranging but affected by controversial ideas such as those put forward by Samuel Huntington in "Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity." He argues that the current influx of Mexican immigrants provides a greater challenge and is fundamentally different from those of the Irish, Jews and Italians previously. His thesis is that the assimilation successes of the past are unlikely to be repeated by contemporary immigrants from Latin America due to what he describes as problems of contiguity, scale, illegality, regional concentration, persistence and historical presence. This view has been both greatly controversial and subject to intense criticism. In contradiction to Huntington's argument, scholars point out that Mexican immigration is currently emulating integration patterns set by earlier groups of immigrants. For example, Mexican newcomers largely find limited access to jobs beyond the low-wage sector, which is not unprecedented for a large immigrant flow from one country; both Italian and Polish immigrants at the start of the last century were in a similar position. Therefore, there ought to be considerable scope for the immigrant population of Mexican origin to integrate successfully into the working class in the U.S., even if they are unable to access higher educational or professional levels. Many Mexican immigrant offspring grow up in communities which are poor, but which are well integrated into the local labor markets. This provides contacts and access to employment, which are crucial for further integration.
Educational attainment is a key issue with regard to the immigrant population as it often correlates strongly with job prospects and successful integration. While 89% of the native population aged 25 and older held at least a high school degree in 2010, only 68% of the foreign-born population possessed of such a diploma. However, the foreign-born and native populations converge at the level of higher education, with 27% of foreign-born persons and 28% of natives holding a bachelor's or higher degree.
In terms of employment, the foreign-born population aged 16 and older shows higher labor force participation rates than the native population (69% as compared to 64%). Yet, participation rates differ among the male and the female population. Foreign-born males (79%) are more likely to be in the labor force than native males (68%) while labor force participation is lower for foreign-born females (57%) than for native females (60%). Foreign-born workers are more likely than natives to hold jobs in the service, construction, and production sector. At the same time they are underrepresented in managerial or professional occupations (foreign born: 28.6%, native: 37.4%). There are, however, large differences among the different ethnic groups. Overall, people born in Latin America – especially in Mexico – are the least likely of all regions of birth to be engaged in management, business, science, and arts occupations and the most likely to work in the service, construction, and production sector. They are also the minority group with the highest poverty rate (24% compared to 15% of the native born population).
Results of the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) show that 85 percent of the foreign-born population speak a language other than English at home, compared with about 10% of the native population. However, the majority of foreign born in this situation speak English "very well" or "well". Yet, results differ among immigrant groups. While about 70% of the foreign-born population from Europe, Northern America, Africa and Oceania are assumed to speak English "very well", this is the case among 53% of the population born in Asia and 37% of the population born in Latin America. One in ten foreign born did not speak English at all. It is worth noting that there has been pressure in recent years for English to be designated as the official language of the U.S., which it is currently not. Proposals in the Senate in 2007 have called upon federal agencies to preserve and enhance the role of English. Although they would not preclude information being given in languages other than English, they would clarify that citizens do not have an affirmative right to ask for such services. By 2010, 31 states had passed some form of official English law.