According to the Census Bureau, those born elsewhere in the world constituted 12.9% of the American population in 2010, the highest proportion since 1920, and 2.7 times greater than the percentage in 1970. The 40 million foreign-born people counted by the Census Bureau three years ago included those here in violation of America's immigration laws, a population estimated in 2012 by the Pew Hispanic Center to exceed 11 million, half of whom are from Mexico. President Obama has called for, and Congress is considering, changes in our immigration laws, which would affect how America decides which foreigners are admitted and which are not, how it treats those already here illegally, and how it enforces laws meant to prohibit illegal immigration in the future. Questions about immigration policy are inseparable from the broader questions of what it means to be American, and of the prospects for the economic, social, and political assimilation of 21st-century immigrants. To help clarify, with respect to immigration and assimilation, where America stands, where it's heading, and what it should do, the CRB asked six experts to give their assessments of these questions.
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William J. Bennett
When law enforcement finally captured the Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after a 20-hour manhunt, he was lying in a boat stored in a backyard, near death after massive blood loss. On the inside of the boat, authorities found the words "F— America" scrawled in blood. The infamous issue of Rolling Stone featuring Dzhokhar on the cover quoted a high school friend reiterating Dzhokhar's views on Islamic terror: "he said he felt some of those acts were justified because of what the U.S. does in other countries." Dzhokhar's brother, Tamerlan, killed hours earlier, had harbored a similar rejection of his country and Western mores. Near the peak of his radicalization, Tamerlan told those close to him to stop listening to music because, "it is not supported by Islam."
Despite being a citizen of the United States (Tamerlan's application had been delayed), Dzhokhar harbored deeply anti-American views and despised the land that graciously granted him and his family asylum. The contradiction, between the welcome America extended to the Tsarnaevs and the savage rejection of the nation by two of their sons, raises the question: should we extend the generous offer of citizenship, or even some form of legalization, to those who do not want to identify themselves as Americans? The answer is no. Wanting to be an American and wanting to identify as one should be a necessary condition of citizenship.
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This question has special significance for the current immigration debate. In particular, Latinos, by far the largest group of immigrants, do not seem eager to identify themselves as Americans. As Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post has reported:
A 2011 Pew Research Center survey of Latinos showed just one in four (24 percent) think of themselves as Latinos while a majority (51 percent) prefer to identify themselves with the country of their origin. (One in five describe themselves as Americans.) Asked whether all Latinos living in America share a "common culture", nearly seven in ten Hispanics said they did not.
The Tsarnaev brothers' hatred of the United States, and these troubling statistics, highlight a neglected facet of the immigration debate: the increasing inability, or unwillingness, of new immigrants to assimilate to American values and beliefs. Referencing a new paper ("America's Patriotic Assimilation System Is Broken") co-authored by John Fonte and Althea Nagai, National Review Online noted, "By roughly 31 points (81.2% to 49.5%), the native-born are more likely than naturalized citizens to believe that ‘our schools' should focus on the ‘rights and responsibilities of citizenship and pride in being part of America' rather than on ‘each student's ethnic identity' and their ‘pride in their own heritage and ethnic group.'"
The problem is clear: Immigrants aren't identifying as Americans in ways they used to. But, at the same time, America also isn't turning immigrants into Americans. This story by one college professor illustrates the problem:
only six of the twenty students in my undergraduate World View seminar could provide the name of the current vice president on the 100-question U.S. Citizenship Exam. A sophomore, who incidentally gave the answer "Vince Carter…peanut farmer???", quickly provided me fodder for a month's worth of classes when he exclaimed, "Good thing I'm not a history major…. I only need to know business stuff."
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The founders had the right ideas about what citizenship means—it is not just a birthright, or personal attribute, but a commitment to the nation and her ideals. So how to recover them? First, the nation must do a better job teaching the American story—not just to those born elsewhere, but to young people who were born in the U.S., and whose grandparents were born here. According to the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 12% of high school seniors were proficient in American history, and 24% were proficient in civics. U.S. history is our worst subject. True assimilation into the American system begins with teaching American history and the Founding documents to all apprentice citizens, young and immigrant alike.
The embrace of self-betterment through work was also essential throughout the long decades when we successfully turned a nation of immigrants into a nation of Americans. Ben Franklin believed that "industry and constant employment are great preservatives of the morals and virtue of a nation." While Tamerlan Tsarnaev brooded in his house, reading jihadist material instead of holding or seeking a job, his wife worked up to 80 hours a week as a home health aid.
Franklin also understood the importance of a shared language. At one point, he complained that Pennsylvania "will in a few Years become a German Colony. Instead of their Learning our Language, we must learn their's (sic), or live as in a foreign country." Similar complaints can be heard today in the cities and border areas of California, Arizona, and Texas. Pennsylvania did not become a German colony, of course, because German immigrants became assimilated Americans. Such successes, though impressive, were not inevitable then, and are far from assured today. Without the transmission of Americanism to immigrants and native-born citizens, we imperil the whole American experiment. A college professor (a friend of Howard Zinn's, no less) describes trenchantly the age demographic that the Tsarnaevs belong to:
The problem with this demographic is that they do not know the basic narratives of their histories—or really any narratives. They're blazed on pot and searching the Internet for any ‘factoids' that they believe fit their highly de-historicized and decontextualized ideologies. And the adult world totally misunderstands them and dismisses them—and does so at our collective peril.
We cannot afford to misunderstand or dismiss these young people. We must engage them and teach them what it means to be an American. To paraphrase William Wordsworth, what we have loved, others will love, but we must teach them how. And we ought not to grant citizenship to, or make legal, immigrants who do not want to embrace America's virtues and ideals. If we do, we do so at our own peril.
William J. Bennett is the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute and host of the "Bill Bennett's Morning in America" radio show.
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As one who believes strongly in American exceptionalism, I am surprised and disheartened by the current fear of immigrants that grips much of the conservative movement. One of the chief characteristics that makes America exceptional is that we have been able to forge a common national identity among one of the most heterogeneous populations on the globe. While our political and civil institutions are grounded firmly in our Anglo-Protestant roots, we've managed within a generation or two to turn everyone from German farmers to Chinese laborers to Jewish peasants into Americans. Yet conservatives worry that today's immigrants—especially those who come, legally or illegally, from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America—will fail to do what countless others have done before them. The fear is that these latest newcomers will change America far more fundamentally than America will change them.
I have written extensively over the last 30 years to try to dispel this fear, compiling mountains of statistical evidence to show the quick and successful assimilation of Hispanics into the American mainstream. From English acquisition to high school completion rates—and, more recently, college attendance figures that show Hispanic high school graduates continuing their education at higher rates than whites—to intermarriage, virtually all indices show Hispanic immigrants becoming largely indistinguishable from other Americans within a generation. But of late, the message has fallen on deaf ears.
This symposium poses the problem somewhat differently: How do we conservatives address immigration in a principled way and still win elections? On that score, too, the evidence is not nearly so dire as some seem to believe. Hispanics usually vote for the more liberal candidate, but not monolithically or consistently so. In presidential elections going back to 1972, Republicans have garnered from 30-44% of Hispanic votes (a higher percentage than among Jews or Ph.Ds) in all but four elections. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush did well with Hispanic voters (over 40%), not by pandering to them in ethnic terms but by appealing to their patriotism, optimism, and work ethic. Even Bill Clinton in 1992 understood that the way to win Hispanic votes in New Mexico—the most Hispanic state in the nation then as now (47%)—was to focus on ending welfare, which was the theme of an aggressive ad campaign in the summer of 1992.
But when Republican candidates have made illegal immigration a major campaign issue, they've alienated many Hispanics, as they did in California in 1994 by sponsoring Proposition 187 to deny education and other service to the children of illegal immigrants, with spillover effects discernible from the 1996 presidential race to the national elections in 2008 and 2012. Conservatives are either tone-deaf or in denial on this issue. Hispanics don't favor illegal immigration, but for many U.S.-born Hispanics, illegal immigration touches close to home; one quarter of all Hispanics know someone who has been deported and nearly 17 million Hispanics live in mixed-status (that is, legal-illegal) homes, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Hispanic Center. When conservative candidates berate illegal immigrants as welfare cheats and criminals, they forget they are frequently referring to Hispanic voters' neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers.
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A principled immigration policy would be one that honored conservative commitment to free market economics and fostered assimilation. Immigrants come here for jobs, but our current legal immigration levels do not meet employer demand for either high-skilled or low-skilled workers. Hispanic immigrants fall mainly into the latter category, taking jobs that others eschew. Mexican-born men have the highest labor force participation rates (94 %) of any group; they are eagerly sought after by employers, not because employers want to exploit them but because they give an honest day's work for pay that allows the employer to earn a profit. Immigrants come here seeking a better life for themselves and their children and when legal visas are unavailable, they risk their lives (and violate our laws) by crossing the border illegally. The best way to solve the problem is to expand legal immigration.
Immigrants represent hope and faith in America; they renew and make us stronger by reminding us that we are a nation that rewards individual effort and achievement. America has not lost its ability to assimilate these newcomers, despite programs like bilingual education (which is on the wane). Conservatives should not lose faith in the assimilative power of our exceptional nation. Our duty should be to help foster that assimilation by promoting English and civics lessons for these newcomers.
Linda Chavez is president of The Becoming American Institute and chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity.
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Angelo M. Codevilla
Abraham Lincoln voiced the fundamental truth about immigration in America: "perhaps half our people…are not descendants at all of [our Founders]; they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things." He continued:
If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find that those old men say that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal"; and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh, of the men who wrote that Declaration; and so they are.
That "father of all moral principle" is the "electric cord" that binds our diverse people together. We have no other. Because generation after generation of Americans tightened that very cord around each new wave of immigrants, this country made good Americans out of persons previously civilized as Chinese, Sicilians, Finns, Basques, etc. All came to possess similar attitudes and habits. America even so assimilated African slaves that the tribes among whom their progeny sought their roots looked beyond color and saw them simply as "Americans."
America's seeming capacity to assimilate even a ham sandwich was not the doing of government. The schools helped by teaching immigrants—as they taught natives—to revere "our founders," much as French teachers in deepest Africa tried to manufacture Frenchmen by teaching the little ones to recite "our ancestors the Gauls" with just the right accent. But here it happened mostly because Americans lived as if that "father of moral principle" really is "self-evident." If you were going to live here, you had to live accordingly.
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No more. The America of our day is an engine of dissimilation, substantially as a result of government. Today, as a native or as an immigrant, you are hard put not to be at odds with the country's founders, with their principles, and with all those around you. As government has grown into the people's master, a ruling class has arisen intertwined with it. For that class, America's founders, their works, and the assumptions that underlie those works, are objects of disdain rather than reverence. The schools, which belong to the rulers rather than the ruled, teach and enforce the moral principle against which the founders rebelled: that something special (they now call it "science") entitles the rulers to rule and obliges the rest to obey.
Self-entitled and contemptuous, the ruling class tries to marshal mere Americans into sectors, each having as much dependence as possible on the rulers and as little in common with one another as possible. To become docile to management, mere Americans have to learn to regard America as good only because it permitted the current ruling class to arise; to regard those who urge self-reliance as threats to the government's largesse, those who belong to other "demographics" as competitors for it, and those who speak of moral principle as enemies of liberty.
Doing this requires overcoming a lot of ingrained ideas and habits. That is why the ruling class concentrates on deracinating younger people, whose roots are naturally shallower. It is why it is so eager to bring into the body politic as may immigrants as it can—a category which, having no connection with mere Americans, may be prevented from experiencing the thrill of living as equals among equals; a category which, having no knowledge of and attachment to the principles and practices of a body politic founded on self-evident truths, may be induced never to acquire them.
That is why the current plans for "immigration reform" involve admitting people as members of sectors and as recipients of privileges, likelier to dissimilate into subjects than to assimilate into citizens.
Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute.
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Edward J. Erler
Nancy Pelosi recently proffered some unsolicited political advice to Republicans: either support the Gang of Eight immigration bill or give up all hope of winning another national election. Oddly enough, the Republican leadership seems inclined to agree.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which gave amnesty to nearly three million illegal immigrants, the vast majority of them Hispanics. In 1984 Reagan had received 37% of the Hispanic vote, but the vote for his successor, George H.W. Bush, declined significantly to 30%. Granted, H.W. Bush was no Reagan, but such ingratitude seems to puzzle Republicans.
The other component of the 1986 act was border control, although no one but the hopelessly naïve believed that border enforcement would be taken seriously. The reason was simple: both Republicans and Democrats wanted a steady supply of illegal immigrants, Republicans for cheap and exploitable labor and Democrats for future voters. The same dynamic is at work today.
We are told that there are 11 million illegal aliens in the United States, although this number is almost certainly much higher. If current amnesty proposals are passed, illegal immigrants will immediately receive green cards. Whether they will be placed on a path to citizenship has not yet been settled, but smart money says that some form of citizenship will be eventually passed, and the Democratic Party will enroll about two-thirds of these new citizens—perhaps 3-4 million. (And in some states there are efforts to allow alien voting—which would be perfectly within the constitutional powers of states). Hispanic loyalty to the Democratic Party does not weaken over time or with greater assimilation; third and fourth generation Hispanics vote overwhelmingly Democratic. But one of the Gang of Eight, Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, says, not to worry: Hispanics don't vote in large percentages so the large number of potential voters will translate into a small number of actual voters. If this were not such a serious political issue, we might accuse the senator of indulging some low humor. The election of 2012 demonstrated that the Democratic Party has perfected the art of voter turnout. President Obama won 93% of the African American vote and for the first time African Americans voted at a higher rate than whites. Obama also won 71% of the Hispanic vote. Does anyone doubt the Democrats' ability and determination to turn out the Hispanic vote in future elections using the same techniques?
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The Gang of Eight immigration bill is a thousand-page monstrosity loaded with exceptions, special interest brokering, multi-million dollar funding for left-wing advocacy groups (principally La Raza), provisions for chain migration and loopholes of every sort. Once illegal aliens receive green cards, their value to employers will decrease considerably, since employers will have to pay minimum wages and contribute to federal and state benefits. As the cost of green-card workers increases, demand for illegal alien labor will also increase. And, of course, the demand for future voters on the part of Democrats will always be high. This is the reason that many suspect that the border control provisions in the Gang of Eight bill are as farcical as those in the 1986 act.
Most illegal aliens entering the country are disaffected and desperately poor, fleeing Mexico with the active complicity of the Mexican government. On the whole, these immigrants are not well less educated and possess fewer technical skills. Immigration policies, however, should focus on admitting those who can best contribute to American prosperity. Some leading Republicans, of course, say we should show compassion to those who merely seek a better life for themselves and their families. After all, as President George W. Bush said, "family values don't stop at the border." President Bush's encomium would fit the homogeneous world state where citizenship has been rendered superfluous, but as long as the world remains a system of sovereign nation-states, American interests should be the sole driving force for immigration policy. Illegal aliens from Latin countries are most likely to need the ministrations of the welfare state and therefore to become clients of the administrative state.
The Obama Administration has waged open warfare against the middle class by trying to magnify the power and reach of the administrative state. Republicans would do well to concentrate their political appeal on the middle class, a class that opposes the loss of political and economic freedom that attends the expansion of the administrative state, even as it becomes increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic. If the Republican party wants to commit suicide, it can find no more dramatic method than by supporting the Gang of Eight immigration bill.
Edward J. Erler is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute.
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Generally speaking, conservatives should address the impact of immigration on the political scene by crafting policies designed to appeal to all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity. On immigration policy itself, every approach imposes daunting political burdens. In the absence of well-established control of our borders, we should not even be considering a path to citizenship. On adopting this stance, however, conservatives and Republicans will be accused of heartless disregard for the plight of "undocumented" immigrants. We will also be charged with outright anti-Hispanic bias. All of this is nonsense, but what is to be done in response?
The terms of the debate must be broadened. The deeper problem with immigration policy is that America's assimilation system is broken. Instead of being drawn into the civic tradition, rooted in our founding, that stands behind the classic American dream, immigrants are being pulled into a counter-tradition of grievance-group protest against alleged American oppression. Not only immigrants, but all too many young Americans are being drawn into this counter-tradition, which has grown to dominate our education system over the past 40 years. Patriotic civic education is largely dead now, at both the K-12 and college levels.
Conservatives need to make the collapse of traditional American civic education an issue again. We had this battle in the 1980s and early 1990s. William Bennett and Lynne Cheney, representing respectively the Reagan and elder Bush administrations, were able to use the bully pulpit to rally the public against the leftward drift of America's education system. Bennett and Cheney failed to stem the tide in the schools, but succeeded in convincing the public that there was a problem. This kept students open to alternative views and saddled the Democratic Party with the task of defending a sharply left-leaning constituency with little public support.
Since then, Republican politicians have largely abandoned the battle. In part, this is because the mainstream press, which was remarkably open to conservative criticisms of the academy's extremes in the 1980s, is now largely a product of the educational trends conservatives were fighting in those days. Republican politicians fear being marginalized by a press now comfortably ensconced on the cultural left.
Yet most Americans remain far more closely tied to classic American civic traditions than do either K-12 or college teachers (now bulwarks of the Democratic Party, not coincidentally). Turning the civic content of American education into a battle is still a political winner for Republicans, if only they can brave the inevitable criticism from a culturally ascendant left. The alternative is to cede enough immigrant citizens and young people to the 1960s-based counter-tradition to tilt the country irrevocably away from our founding principles.
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The challenge extends far beyond immigration. Yet this means that a revitalized public battle over American civic education would help to re-frame issues now wrongly represented as questions of ethnicity. The argument that a comprehensive solution to immigration issues is impossible without first putting our broken assimilation system in order would become part of a wider, less ethnically-charged debate.
To be sure, ethnically-based protest groups will attempt to characterize a return to classic civic education as a discriminatory move. They will fail to persuade the public, however, so long as the issue is posed in the broadest terms, rather than as a question of immigration policy alone.
Republican politicians are not going to take up the battle over civic education unless the public returns to it in earnest. The growing controversy over the Common Core, fast becoming a de facto federal K-12 school curriculum (in defiance of constitutional principles), provides a unique opportunity to rekindle public interest in civic education. Common Core standards in history and social studies have yet to be issued. When they are, the battle should be joined, and tied to the larger struggle over the fate of America's founding tradition, for immigrants, for young people, and for all of us.
Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
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Irish novelist Honor Tracy once remarked of the Irish complaint that the English had no knowledge of Irish history: "That is true and it is greatly to the advantage of the Irish." The same could be said with even greater justice about the advocates of the immigration bill currently before Congress. They enjoy a rhetorical advantage in the debate because of the common myth that America is "a nation of immigrants." Except in the trivial sense that every nation is a nation of immigrants—no nation having been known to spring from the ground—this is historically false. (It is considered impolite to tell these truths in the current debate which means that it is all the more necessary to tell them.)
As the late Samuel Huntington pointed out in his magisterial Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity(2004), America is a nation of settlers and assimilated ex-immigrants. And what the immigrants assimilated to was the culture, institutions, language, and public memories of the original settlers. To be sure, the immigrants enriched the national identity of these first Americans but not to the extent of transforming it into a different identity. Huntington's metaphor was that of a tomato soup that became a more delicious concoction when you added spices, garlic, basil, and chopped onions but that was still recognizably tomato soup.
If immigration enriches a national culture in this way, is there a point at which it ceases to enrich and begins to disturb, divide, and weaken the common culture? A point where it produces such unwelcome economic and political changes as reduced wages and job opportunities for poorer Americans? Or a more socially stratified society? Or the sharpening of ethnic conflict? Or greater social distrust in general? Common sense, history, and some social research such as Robert Putnam's investigation of the impact of "diversity" all suggest that these results will likely flow from continued high levels of immigration. Indeed, the greater salience of immigration as a matter of political controversy is in itself evidence of these trends.
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Of course, when it comes to enriching tomato soup, a great deal depends on the skill of the chef. America in the past was able to assimilate large numbers of immigrants partly because both public institutions and private bodies devoted a great deal of moral persuasion and political pressure to making them good Americans. This "Americanization" enabled the Republic to assimilate more immigrants with fewer negative side effects for a long period. Even so the growing social conflicts of post-World War I America persuaded governments in the 1920s to limit total numbers coming in. And that long "pause" produced the united America that won World War II and the American middle class that won the long postwar prosperity.
Today, we have had approximately 40 years of high legal and illegal immigration. Legal immigration is currently running at around 900,000 people annually. It is occurring against a background not of assimilation but of multiculturalism which—to continue Huntington's metaphor—we might describe as the kitchen producing several different soups, each "authentic" and so unpalatable to some diners. The results are exactly as described in the above hypothesis.
Their single most important effect is fully outlined, however, by John Fonte of the Hudson Institute and Althea K. Nagai of Lerner and Nagai Quantitative Consulting in their study showing the very different social and political attitudes of native-born Americans and immigrant citizens. By large margins, native-born Americans were more likely than immigrant citizens to be proud of being American, to be knowledgeable about American history, to believe that the U.S. Constitution is a higher legal authority for Americans than international law, and much else. They conclude that patriotic assimilation has broken down—and, worse, that official America is pursuing policies that ensure this breakdown will accelerate. As Huntington observed, mass immigration plus multiculturalism amounts to a program to deconstruct America.
That almost self-evident truth naturally influences American attitudes to immigration itself. Poll findings vary, but two are consistent over a long period. The first is that the more information respondents have about current levels of immigration, the more likely they are to favor less of it. The second is that the largest single groups of respondents—a plurality in the jargon—favors less immigration, too. These findings partly explain why public resistance to "comprehensive immigration reform" always increases whenever it becomes a major topic of political debate.
Yet the immigration bill not only legalizes millions of illegal immigrants already present in the U.S., it vastly increases the number of legal immigrants too. In addition, it proposes no serious program for reviving patriotic assimilation (i.e., Americanization); instead it earmarks billions of dollars for organizations that promote multiculturalism. It is quite simply an engine of self-destruction. No one who loves the America that was and is can possibly vote for it.
But if it passes, it will have at least one interesting effect. It will make America, for the first time, truly a nation of immigrants. That is to say, no nation at all.
John O'Sullivan is editor-at-large of National Review.