November 28, 2010
The Dangerous Mythology of Immigration
No question on the national agenda is more important than the resolution of our immigration policy. The U.K., France, Spain, and Germany have discovered that, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated recently, multiculturalism has "utterly failed." Nor do we have to go as far as Europe. The Separatist Movement has long been an expensive and divisive thorn in Canada's side.
Unrestricted and unmanaged immigration is more than a question of expense. It can destroy a nation's identity and wipe away its culture, customs, and laws. The recent law passed by the citizens of Oklahoma making it illegal for judges to rely on Sharia Law in deciding cases (a law that was inexplicably stayed by a federal judge), as well as Arizona's move to enforce federal immigration law -- a movement seconded by a growing number of states -- all show that it can happen here.
Adding to the difficulty of crafting a just and effective policy is the amount of mythology and emotionalism surrounding the entire immigration question. Some of this is understandable. Immigration is a central facet of the American identity and is reflected in one of our most cherished icons: the Statue of Liberty. Virtually all our family histories boast chapters on immigration. Knowing what the opportunity to become an American has meant to us, it is hard to imagine that the door of opportunity -- the "golden door" -- is now closed to many. Yet unless and until we are willing to look at the situation realistically, we risk not just our icons, but the land that they represent.
Here are three myths central to the problem of immigration:
Myth No. 1: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore..." Well, not quite. Emma Lazarus's 1883 poem "The New Colossus" -- written in the year the Statue of Liberty was dedicated -- has been taken by many to reflect a true picture of immigration. This is not the case. From the colonial period on, there were standards that immigrants had to meet. Originally addressed at the regional level, then by the states, they were eventually federalized. The immigration stations, such as the one at Ellis Island in New York harbor, were not welcoming centers. They were processing points for the inspection and certification of new arrivals. Individuals with physical or mental problems, or who were known to be criminals in their country of origin, were denied entry. Older or underage family members required sponsorship. All of this was to ensure that the newly arrived immigrants would not be a burden to their new country and could either support themselves or be supported by others.
Further, the America of the 17th through the early 20th centuries possessed a large appetite for unskilled or semiskilled labor. Labor contractors advertised in Europe for workers. Likewise, the railroads solicited farmers with offers of free or cheap land situated along the right-of-way. Many of the jobs were hard, dangerous, and poorly paid, but given good health and a desire to work, the new immigrants, both male and female, could find opportunities to establish themselves.
Today's situation is different. The market for unskilled labor is a tiny fraction of what it was. Even in agriculture, many of the harvesting processes once performed by migrants now utilize machines. America still has a place for immigrants, but with the advent of technology, the qualifications required have markedly changed.
Myth No. 2: People come here because they want to become Americans. Some do, but today, many do not. Most of the early immigrants who fled to these shores came due to trouble and desperation. They sought a new life in America, and from the time they arrived, virtually everything they made was reinvested in their new country. Travel was difficult and expensive, and most who made the journey knew they would never see their native land again.
Unlike previous generations, those who come today do so for a variety of reasons. Some come seeking economic opportunity but have no desire to break ties with their own country. This is observable in the demonstrations held by Latinos seeking amnesty. Some carry Mexican flags and signs proclaiming what they believe the U.S. owes them. The second-largest source of income in Mexico derives from remittances sent from the United States. So-called paths to citizenship have not met with an enthusiastic reception.
Others, in turn, come for more nefarious reasons. Members of the Mexican Reconquista movement, including the National Will Organization, Mexica movement, and La Voz de Aztlan, seriously wish to reclaim the lands lost by Mexico in the Mexican War, as well as other states with high Hispanic populations. These would include California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, and Colorado.
Other advocates of multiculturalism, including foreign nationals, religious sects, and cults, seek to reduce the United States to colonial status for their own purposes. Just as radical Islamists in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are advocating the imposition of Sharia Law on the population, some here seek the same end.
Even where the intention is not initially malicious, multiculturalism can have problematic results. National and other groups that choose to live apart from the mainstream, retaining their own language, culture, and customs, frequently experience serious problems in the second generation. Raised in an extremely restrictive environment but unavoidably exposed to American ideas, these young people develop severe identity problems. As with earlier immigrant groups, the result frequently takes the form of antisocial behavior and gang membership. This trend is observable from the multiple ethnic gangs of early organized crime, down to the drug cartels of the present day.
Myth No. 3: Everyone is really seeking the same things. No other myth is more insidious than the one world philosophy that has impacted not only the immigration debate, but also our foreign policy for over half a century. Traditionally, people who came to America in pursuit of a better life assimilated into the American mainstream. Defining themselves along similar lines, they shared many of the same values and goals. As a result of that experience, it has become very easy for Americans to project the idea of mutual tolerance and communality worldwide. Like the dream of a united nations, this has along been a favorite mantra of those on the left. In June of 1963, in delivering the commencement address at American University, John F. Kennedy sought to advance a nuclear test ban treaty by equating the attitudes of the United States and the Soviet Union, stating, "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal." In 2009, speaking at the United Nations, Barack Obama, again supporting disarmament, stated, "No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed."
The wishful thinking that all nations are somehow equal and that we all desire the same things is naïve on the face of it and deadly in its implementation. The individual who murders his daughter in an honor killing; the family that celebrates the martyrdom of children who destroyed themselves while killing innocent people; or the tribe whose members practice genocide against its neighbors are not going to be satisfied with a good job, a nice house, education for their children, and a wide-screen HDTV.
Those who project a rosy vision of world brotherhood play into the hands of fanatics. Our concern for others, including future immigrants, will be best-demonstrated in securing our borders and insuring our survival as the seat of freedom.