We Are a Nation of Immigrants...Sort Of
In any debate about immigration, the response you are likely to get will probably include the sickly-sweet mantra, "We're a nation of immigrants."
The "nation of immigrants" mantra is often a plea for compassion toward immigrants. The phrase reflects a desperate, well-meaning desire to rationalize the presence of people who are violating our laws and patronizing the welfare system. The trouble is that repeating a phrase does nothing to enforce our law, preserve our culture, or keep the welfare-state Leviathan at bay.
"We're a nation of immigrants" is an accurate description as far as it goes, but it leaves out several facts whose omission renders the phrase extremely misleading, and totally meaningless.
We were a nation of legal immigrants, almost all of whom arrived as part of a planned legal process, many via Ellis Island. We are a nation of immigrants who, in the past, didn't depend on the welfare state -- even if for no better reason than that there was not much of a welfare state in the past. We were once a nation of immigrants who assimilated instead of maintaining multicultural divisions, as modern immigrants tend to do. There are serious differences between the immigrants who arrived to America in the 19th and early 20th centuries and those who are arriving today, Hispanics in particular.
The late political scientist Samuel Huntington, in his classic 2004 essay "The Hispanic Challenge," outlined six profound differences that make Hispanic immigration "the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America's traditional identity." Huntington wrote:
Contemporary Mexican and, more broadly, Latin American immigration is without precedent in U.S. history. ... Mexican immigration differs from past immigration and most other contemporary immigration due to a combination of six factors: contiguity, scale, illegality, regional concentration, persistence, and historical presence.
Contiguity refers to the fact that no other first-world country has such an extensive border with a third-world country, and the wealth gap between the U.S. and Mexico is the largest between two bordering countries in the world. As for scale, the largest group of our foreign-born population in 1960 were Italians, numbering just over one million, but in 2000, the largest group of foreign-born were 8 million Mexicans. The illegality is absolutely without comparison and "is overwhelmingly a post-1965 and Mexican phenomenon," as Huntington notes. Hispanic immigration tends to be regionally concentrated, which blocks assimilation. Unlike immigration from Europe, which slowed after World War I, the persistence of Hispanic immigration is essentially unbroken. Finally, and most troubling, our historical relationship with Mexico gives rise to the belief that the American southwest was stolen from Hispanics and should be retaken, which is a view far more common than most would like to admit. Repeating mantras about "a nation of immigrants" is child's play in the face of these staggering problems.
Huntington's analysis was incredibly prescient and deserves to be the starting point of any discussion of amnesty or euphemisms for amnesty such as "comprehensive immigration reform." There is not a single Republic politician or Beltway pundit today who better understands the impact of Hispanic immigration on American life than Huntington did.
But for those who want a cheap and easy way to avoid critical discussion of illegal immigration, "we're a nation of immigrants" is the go-to response. From the vapid college liberal to the compassionate conservative who wants to make a dog and pony show of magnanimity, the phrase is a quick fix of atonement. After being browbeaten for maintaining a racist society, many white conservatives are itching for an opportunity to grovel. As a result, people who are not racist are supporting self-destructive amnesty in a vain effort to show that they aren't racist. And what better way to show racial open-mindedness than with an open border? Too many Republicans gripe about the welfare state while cheerleading the immigration that guarantees a larger welfare state.
The "nation of immigrants" rhetoric is rarely part of a fully formed thought or constructive observation; it's more of a pleasant noise. In that way, the "nation of immigrants" claptrap rhymes along with the "diversity is a strength" mantra. Like many clichés, these phrases are repeated so often that their meaning is totally lost, if there ever was any.
Our essential retort to immigration mantras should be that we are a nation of laws, amnesty rewards people who disrespect our laws, and only legal immigration is welcome.
The nation of immigrants that we once were has been changed. The nation we once were has been disunited by multiculturalism, racial grievances, and class warfare. In response, we must stop admitting people to this nation who will contribute to tribalism and the welfare state.