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 dont 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 isnt 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
Americas 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 years
Democratic ticket. He also noted that Democrats are poised to gain from similar trends
nationally. So what should Republicans do about it?
"When a sinks 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
havent 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 GOPs 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
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
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