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AMERICANIZING NEWCOMERS AGAIN
IMMIGRATION REFORM PROMOTES AMERICANIZATION

By: W. James Antle III

If the U.S. immigration system is to have any purpose, it would seem that it should be the creation of new Americans. To that end, admission criteria would be revamped to prefer those who wish to become Americans and the naturalization process would emphasize assimilation - what we once called "Americanization."

Up to this point, such prominent center-right opinion leaders and policy advocates as Ron Unz, Linda Chavez and Ben Wattenberg would strongly agree. But they would also couple their call for greater assimilation - and admirable opposition to the multiculturalism and bilingualism that impedes assimilation - with a continuation of mass immigration. Tamar Jacoby, in an article for Commentary, actually suggested that we could simultaneously encourage assimilation while increasing immigration, or at least tailoring it to unquantified market needs. Does this position make sense?

Such arguments ignore the possibility that unassimilated immigrants are being reinforced by large numbers of immigrants from their own countries rather than absorbed into the culture of this country. As I have noted previously, immigration reduction and assimilation can be complementary. America has a history of intermittent immigration wherein large immigrant waves were later assimilated during pauses in immigration. As far as creating new Americans was concerned, it worked very well.

But since the Immigration Act of 1965, which also increased immigration from non-traditional sources, was first implemented the United States has experienced uninterrupted large-scale immigration. The United States has a foreign-born population of about 28 million. Are they assimilating?

Harvard economist George Borjas’ research finds that post-1965 immigrants are relatively less skilled, impeding their economic assimilation. This has resulted in higher welfare participation rates and higher poverty rates among immigrants. To cite just one example, the poverty rate for children under 18 in immigrant-led households is double that of children in native-born households.

The proportion of immigrants who are citizens has fallen from two-thirds in 1970 to 35 percent in 1997. A longitudinal study of 5,000 children of immigrants by the Russell Sage Foundation found that these children were 50 percent more likely to think of themselves as "Mexican," "Filipino," etc. than Americans or hyphenated Americans. The non-English speaking population of the U.S. has increased 60 percent since 1990, as 17 million Americans do not speak English very well. Census figures show that 18 percent of Americans don’t speak English in their own homes; this figure may be as high as 40 percent in California.

A good case can be made that the problem isn’t immigration per se, but rather our national response to immigration. We simply no longer expect immigrants to Americanize; in fact, we now pursue public policies that are precisely the opposite of Americanization. Some American intellectuals speak openly not just of hyphenated Americans but ampersand Americans. John J. Miller, a supporter of mass immigration, criticizes some of these policies in his book The Unmaking of Americans: How Multiculturalism Has Undermined America’s Assimilationist Ethic. He raises a valid point. But assimilation has never been easy. Norman Podhoretz described it as a "brutal bargain" that could be quite difficult for the immigrants themselves. Thus, mass immigration can create political pressure that makes efforts to restore assimilationist policies more difficult, if not impossible.

Miller has acknowledged the political impact of immigration most recently in his "The Hispanic Republic of Texas" article for National Review. In it, he makes the quite obvious point that demographic changes fueled in large part by immigration are slowly increasing the number of Democrats in the state where both Presidents Bush began their political careers, albeit probably not fast enough to save this year’s Democratic ticket. He also noted that Democrats are poised to gain from similar trends nationally. So what should Republicans do about it?

"When a sink’s overflowing, the first thing to do is shut off the water, and one potential solution for Republicans is to try cutting legal immigration," Miller wrote. "Yet this strategy may have fatal drawbacks." These drawbacks include what open-borders proponent Dan Griswold of the otherwise sensible Cato Institute called "a huge gamble on the unlikely odds that immigration reform will succeed. The whole project would alienate Hispanics from Republicans even further, including those who haven’t arrived here yet." Hence, Republicans must simply wait for assimilation.

But this very argument demonstrates why patiently waiting for assimilation to proceed is unlikely to be a successful strategy - for Republicans or, more importantly, for assimilation. Reinforcing immigrants with new immigrants by definition increases political pressure on Americans to conform to them rather than vice versa. This will likely be compounded by the fact that in countries such as Mexico, there are officials and opinion leaders who are encouraging those emigrate from their country to America to be ampersand (Mexican & American) citizens who transform their new country . To say nothing of the fact that 6 to 10 million people are here illegally.

The argument of course may be wrong on its own terms, which assumes that the GOP’s long-term fortunes among Hispanic voters depend on supporting dumb immigration policies . Yet the implications of this debate are greater than which political party wins the most elections.

Common sense would dictate that even the United States does not have limitless capacity to absorb immigrants. This is something that needs to be consciously worked at. Smaller numbers would facilitate the goal of Americanizing newcomers again.

"Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact."


W. James Antle is a regular columnist for Ether Zone. He is a free-lance political writer and
former researcher for the Rhema Group.

He can be reached at Jimantle@aol.com

Published in the November 5, 2002 issue of  Ether Zone.
Copyright 1997 - 2002 Ether Zone.

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