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The Heritage Foundation and Its Controversial Immigration Report

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank has published a “special report on immigration” which argues that allowing undocumented immigrants the opportunity to legalize their status would cost the US taxpayers 6.3 trillion dollars. The “special report” is in essence an anti-Latino/Hispanic immigration document that characterizes Latino immigrants as moochers. The “special report” was written by Robert Rector and co-authored by Jason Richwine. Many people have criticized the report as flawed. 

To evaluate the credibility of the report published by the Heritage Foundation, one has to learn about the background of the individuals who were involved in the writing of the anti-immigration report, and what possibly underlies their anti-Latino/Hispanic views and rhetoric. Additionally, one has to analyze Jason Richwine’s 2009 dissertation on immigrants and the background of the individuals who approved the dissertation, because that information is very relevant to the understanding of the controversy created by The Heritage Foundation report. Taking into consideration the significant relevance of how Jason Richwine’s views could have shaped the Heritage Foundation report, in this article I want to primarily focus on his Ph.D. dissertation and what that could possible say about Jason Richwine.

Jason Richwine has been a “senior policy analyst” at The Heritage Foundation. He graduated from Harvard University in 2009. He holds a Ph.D. degree in public policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. On 5/01/09, his dissertation “IQ and Immigration Policy” was approved by committee members George J. Borjas (chair), Richard J. Zeckhauser, and Christopher Jenks.

Jason Richwine’s dissertation focuses extensively on Latino/Hispanic immigrants, their alleged low IQ, their likely “underclass behavior,” and many other negative points.  For whatever reason, Jason Richwine appears to be negatively fixated on Latinos/Hispanics.  For example, according to Jason Richwine “The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations. The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market..."

Considering how the average person would interpret the meaning of low IQ (not from a psychological, scientific, professional standpoint), what he is suggesting - without having given an IQ test to one single immigrant - is that I am stupid, my children are stupid, my grand-children will be born stupid.  That is simply offensive!  Period.

Prior to his dissertation’s approval, Jason Richwine was already known as someone whose focus was on race/ethnicity and low IQ. For example, in an article written by Sonia Scherr on September 4, 2008 she mentions that on a discussion on C-SPAN about immigration, Jason Richwine talked about race and IQ, reportedly stating that here in the US there is an IQ hierarchy, with Hispanics and African-Americans at the bottom.  So, even back in 2008, Jason Richwine was arguing that Latinos/Hispanics and African-Americans are/were intellectually inferior to whites. Considering this, it is obvious that Jason Richwine went into the dissertation writing (and into the Heritage foundation report writing) with preconceived biased ideas to support his personal views.

In his dissertation, Jason Richwine mixes into mud several concepts and somehow comes up with apparently research-driven conclusions about his pre-biased opinions. I am not completely clear what his dissertation attempts to use as supporting points – in a truly scientific, coherent way.  Although he earned a degree in public policy, in his dissertation he seems to mix evolutionary biology, genetics, sociology, psychology, perhaps psychometrics, etc. to arrive to a conclusion that others individuals have used (e.g., eugenics), asserting that an ethnic group is intellectually/genetically inferior to others all the while supporting their views with pseudo-science to promote discrimination and hate. Subsequently, Jason Richwine proposes changes to public policy based on his personal views supported by his alleged “research findings.”

Now let’s talk about Jason Richwine’s dissertation committee members, George J. Borjas, Richard J. Zeckhauser, and Christopher Jenks. (The dailykos.com has an interesting article about Jason Richwine’s dissertation and about the three individuals who approved the dissertation).

According to The Citizen, the student newspaper for the Harvard Kennedy School, in an email George J. Borjas responded to the dissertation criticism by saying, “Jason’s research was sound. None of the members of the committee would have signed off on it if they thought that it was shoddy empirical work...” However, per “Slate” George J. Borjas made the following statement: “‘I have never worked on anything even remotely related to IQ, so don't really know what to think about the relation between IQ, immigration, etc,’ Borjas told me in an email.”  Well, what is it? Make up your mind, Dr. Borjas.

How about Richard J. Zeckhauser? Per the “Slate” column: “‘Jason’s empirical work was careful,’ [Richard J. ] Zeckhauser told me over email. ‘Moreover, my view is that none of his advisors would have accepted his thesis had he thought that his empirical work was tilted or in error. However, Richwine was too eager to extrapolate his empirical results to inferences for policy.’”   A dailykos.com writer had this to say about Zeckhauser’s comments:  “So let me get this straight...Zeckhauser believes that Richwine's empirical evidence that Hispanics are dumber than 'native whites' is good, it’s just Richwine's recommendation that these dumb Hispanics be prevented from immigrating that's the problem?  Is there any other way to read that?” Christopher Jenks has apparently kept quiet and has not yet made any public statement; thus, we do not know how he will explain his approval of the dissertation.

David T. Ellwood, Ph.D. Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government addressed the criticism on The Citizen by stating: "First, the views and conclusions of any graduate of this school are theirs alone, and do not represent the views of Harvard or the Kennedy School...It is through ongoing vigorous give and take that good ideas will ultimately emerge and weaker ones can be displaced."   What? We are talking about good old-fashioned rigorous academic research review process, which Harvard and the Kennedy School are responsible for teaching and promoting. Does that make any sense to you? Does this ring a bell, Dr. Ellwood?

It is unclear who at Harvard dropped the ball by allowing George J. Borjas, Richard J. Zeckhauser, and Christopher Jenks approve Jason Richwine’s dissertation, whether the Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, or the university as a whole.  Harvard University is a very prestigious university, and that type of “research” cannot be associated with the university. Harvard University must re-review the Kennedy School of Government, its Dean, and the dissertation in question. Additionally, Harvard must review how the three committee members, George J. Borjas, Richard J. Zeckhauser, and Christopher Jenks approved Jason Richwine’s dissertation and must take the appropriate necessary steps to make sure something similar does not happen again.

Concerning The Heritage Foundation, it has been reported that Jason Richwine has just resigned from The Heritage Foundation, and I am glad The Heritage Foundation accepted his resignation.  However, I believe Robert Rector and Jim DeMint should also resign. By Robert Rector writing the report with Jason Richwine, and by Jim DeMint approving it, they immersed themselves in the controversy and they are fully responsible for publishing a report that is supported by pseudo-science and unreliable data, driven not by conservative values which The Heritage Foundation espouses; it is misleading and biased at best, and racist at worst.

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