The Spanish Speakers in the United States: A History By Peter J. Duignan and the late L. H. Gann

Friday, May 19, 2006

When it was published in 1986, the pioneering study The Hispanics in the United States: A History was the first large-scale survey covering the history, politics, and culture of all major Hispanic groups in this country. Now, a new edition of that study, The Spanish Speakers in the United States: A History, is available from University Press of America ($39.50, paper).

Authors Peter Duignan and the late Lewis H. Gann provide an updated epilogue covering the period from 1986 to 1998, including the impact of the 1986 law legalizing 1.3 million illegal immigrants. Also discussed are two momentous laws passed in 1996: the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.

The authors concede that the 1996 immigration bills have strengthened border enforcement measures, but conclude that more authority is needed in the workplace and to stop entry at airports, document fraud, and smuggling.

Bilingual education is judged a failure. The authors support, at most, one or two transition years for non-English speakers, but consider that no long-term bilingual education programs should be mandated.

The authors also discuss whether immigrants compete for jobs and social services, whether the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) can handle the flow of immigrants and whether employer sanctions are justified. They suggest reforms to help the INS stem the flow of illegal immigrants, and propose that the number of legal immigrants be cut to roughly 500,000 a year.

The authors argue that immigration is a positive experience for both the newcomers and the local communities into which they immigrate. They favor an immigration policy designed to attract skilled newcomers with technical qualifications and capital, rather than those who might place a burden on the welfare system.

The book also examines the Spanish legacy of the Southwest, the beginnings of extensive Mexican immigration after the turn of the century, socioeconomic changes brought about by World War I, and changes in the demographic composition of the nation as a result of later immigration.

At the time of his death, Gann was a senior fellow emeritus at the Hoover Institution. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1966, and was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the German Federal Republic in 1995. Duignan is a senior fellow emeritus at the Hoover Institution, and was elected a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton in 1987 and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1995.

Between them, Gann and Duignan wrote or edited more than forty works, including The Debate in the United States over Immigration and Bilingual Education: A Critique, both published by the Hoover Press.