Muslim Immigrants Have No Trouble Assimilating, Mr. Trump

They'll do just as well in the U.S. as his German grandparents did.

Third-generation immigrant.

Photographer: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Donald Trump says Muslim immigrants are unwilling or unable to integrate into American society. "For some reason, there's no real assimilation," he said this week. "I won't say nonexistent, but it gets to be pretty close. And I'm talking about second and third generation."

Scholars say there are no data to support such a sweeping statement. Authoritative evidence is hard to come by because the U.S. Census Bureau is barred from asking about religious affiliation, but other surveys fill in some of the blanks.

They tell us that Muslims arrive in the U.S. with higher education and income levels than other immigrant groups and are assimilating at about the same pace (and faster than Muslim immigrants in Europe). That doesn't always leave them better off, however.  

The pool is small: Of the U.S.'s 2.75 million Muslims, about 1.7 million are first-generation immigrants and another 412,000 are second-generation. According to a Pew Research Center survey, they recycle, use social media, follow sports teams and play video games as much as the general public.

In one important area, Muslim assimilation is exemplary: A higher percentage become American citizens than other immigrant groups do -- 70 percent versus 50 percent.

Overall, though, Muslims are following much the same pattern as earlier waves of European immigrants, says Mary Waters, a Harvard sociology professor who chaired a committee that produced a September report on U.S. immigrant assimilation.

"What Donald Trump claims is wrong and dangerous," Waters says, if his anti-Muslim views encourage discrimination against immigrants. If employers refuse to hire them or neighbors shun them, he may even be slowing down the integration he desires.

If anything, their biggest problem is avoiding the higher crime rates, lower health status and greater family instability in the U.S. compared with their native countries.

"Becoming more American means becoming fat, exercising less and committing more crime," Waters says, speaking of immigrants overall. Rates of cancer and heart disease are higher among second-generation immigrants than among their parents' generation. Divorce rates and single parenthood also converge with higher U.S. rates.

More than two-thirds of Muslim newcomers told Pew pollsters that their religion is important to them, about the same percentage of U.S. Christians who say the same. Another survey shows that Muslim-Americans are as likely to identify with their faith as they do with the U.S., and less likely than American Catholics, Jews, Protestants and Mormons to strongly identify with foreigners who share their faith.  

Rather than being a danger to U.S. security, the Muslim religion may be helping immigrants assimilate faster in the U.S. than they are in Europe, according to a new book by Richard Alba and Nancy Foner, both sociology professors at the City University of New York.

European Jews and Catholics found refuge, respect and resources through American synagogues and churches, and American mosques perform the same functions today. Many offer job training, citizenship lessons and English classes. They also allow wider roles for women, who are much more likely to attend Friday prayers than they would in their home countries, according to the Waters panel report.

Europe is more secular and less tolerant of those with strong religious beliefs than Americans are. Europe also lacks the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of religious freedom and separation of church and state.

So Trump needn't worry that Muslims will be any more dangerous to the U.S. than his German-born grandparents were more than a century ago.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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