America is the most successful immigration country in the history of the world. Why? Because for more than 200 years immigrants who have come to our land have assimilated to the American way of lifenot just economically, linguistically, and culturally, but, most important patriotically.
In other words, immigrants and their children have not only learned English and over time joined the middle-class, but, most significantly, they have adopted America’s heroes like Washington and Lincoln as their heroes, and America’s story as their story.
They came to possess what one of our greatest Supreme Court Justices, Louis Brandeis, called the “national consciousness of an American” in a powerful speech in 1915 on the Americanization of immigrants.
Why did patriotic assimilation occur? It happened, in no small part, because our national leaders in government (like Louis Brandeis and Theodore Roosevelt) and in civil society (like Jane Addams at Hull House) promoted Americanization, not multiculturalism. They emphasized American unity not diversity---which is the by-product of a free society, not an end in itself.
Theodore Roosevelt is in vogue these days and he embodies the spirit of Americanization or what I am calling “patriotic assimilation.” So let me quote a few lines from the 1931 federal government textbook that my grandmother studied to pass her citizenship test. There is a chapter in the textbook on the life of Theodore Roosevelt. The last section concludes:
“Theodore Roosevelt had great confidence in the American people…he was deeply admired and loved. He loved America above all else and his last public message was a plea for the ‘complete Americanization of our people.” The textbook then asks the reader to study the meaning of Americanization.
Americanization or patriotic assimilation succeeded in the past because it was a conscious national policy supported by the nation’s elites. But, for the past thirty years elite institutions and leaders in all fields have fostered what could be called anti-Americanization policies.
Michael Barone has made some interesting points in his book on immigration and assimilation entitled The New Americans, but I think his core premise is flawed. Michael tells us that “we have been there before.” The assimilation of immigrants will proceed more or less as it did in the past. We are not facing anything new.
But there are major differences between then and now. In the past, the Ford Motor Company promoted Americanization programs and fostered the idea of the melting pot. Today (and for the past 30 years) the Ford Foundation has been one of the leading promoters of an anti-assimilationist multiculturalism. As our moderator Georgie Anne Geyer pointed out in her excellent book, Americans No More: The Death of Citizenship, a major Ford Foundation report in the 1990s actually attacked the very idea of assimilation. The author of the report then went on to become head of policy in the INS during the Clinton Administration.
In the past, our public schools were engines of patriotic assimilation, today they emphasize group differences.
Michael Barone suggests an analogy between today’s Latino immigrants and yesterday’s Italian immigrants. Like the Latinos today, Italians in the past were hard-working and family-oriented; they distrusted civic institutions but eventually assimilated. There is, of course, some truth to this comparison. But there are also crucial differences.
In the past, Italy did not share a contiguous border with the US, nor did Italians comprise 50% of all immigrants to America as Latinos do today. In the past, there was no dual citizenship. Indeed, Theodore Roosevelt called the idea a “a self-evident absurdity.” None of Michael Barone’s or my Sicilian relatives or any other Italian-born American citizen were ever elected mayor of Catania or Palermo. Yet, last year, three naturalized American citizens ran for mayor in three different Mexican towns, violating the spirit of the Oath of Allegiance that they took renouncing all prior political allegiances.
If current amnesty proposals for illegal immigrants are enacted---because of Mexico’s new dual nationality lawthe United States for the first time in its history could have millionsnot thousands, but millionsof American citizens declare—as Linda Chavez wrote---“their allegiance to a neighboring country.” Moreover, it should be noted Mexico’s law also awards dual nationality to children of Mexican immigrants who are born in the USA.
Michael Barone said he is not overly troubled by the idea that Mexican-born American citizens and their American-born children could also be citizens of the Mexican nation-state. He suggests a “benign competition” might emerge between the US and Mexico for these dual citizens. But national citizenship, like monogamous marriage, is not about “competition,” but about allegiance and loyalty. I could well imagine the response from my wife if I told her, “I’m getting a second wife and it will be a good thing because the two of you could be engaged in a ‘benign competition.’ ”
Mr. Barone critics have raised two issues that he has yet to fully answer: (1) did the restrictionist legislation of the 1920s assist the civic integration of immigrants into American society in any way (along with other factors, certainly)? And (2) how does Muslim immigration fit into his framework?
How goes patriotic assimilation today?
Unfortunately, recent empirical evidence is not good. The most comprehensive evidence we have is the Russell Sage Foundation longitudinal studies on the children of immigrants that were published in a recent book. One of these studies reveals that after four years of American high schools these children of immigrants are 50% more likely to consider themselves Mexicans or Filipinos than Mexican-Americans, Filipino-Americans or plain Americans. The fact is our schools are doing a poor job of patriotic assimilation.
The best scientific evidence we have on Muslim immigration to America is the work of a Harvard graduate student of Iranian descent, Kambiz Ghaneabassiri. One of our panelists today, Daniel Pipes, described his work as “perhaps the most sophisticated study to date of Muslims in the United States.” Dr. Ghaneabassiri found that only one of ten Muslim immigrants that he interviewed felt more allegiance to the United States than to a Muslim country.
However, as Michael Barone correctly says there have been millions of good people who have come to our country in recent years, the issue is how can they acquire what Louis Brandeis called the “national consciousness of an American.” What is to be done? First of all, we need a conscious national policy that promotes patriotic assimilation or Americanization, just as we did in the past. Congress could start with the current effort to reorganize the INS. The INS has submitted a plan to split the functions of the agency into enforcement and services.
The problem with the proposed Bureau of Immigration Services is that it ignores citizenship. There are 81 references to services, 24 references to customers, only four to citizens, and no references to citizenship in the INS’s Restructuring Proposal. Clearly, any federal agency should treat non-citizens and citizens alike with respect, in other words courteously and professionally. Clearly, treating immigrants who hope to become American citizens with real respect means seeing them as future fellow citizens, not as customers waiting for what some INS officials think is a “product” called American citizenship.
As John Miller of National Review (a strong advocate of high immigration) put it in a recent column, “Instead of settling for a Bureau of Immigration Services, let us demand a Bureau of Americanization. Our country does not seek merely to serve immigrants, but to assimilate them—specifically to Americanize them. It is time to recover this wonderful word that historically has been prized by everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to Barbara Jordan. In the aftermath of September 11, we should embrace it once more, and let its spirit animate our immigration agencies”and let this message be received by prospective citizens.
At the core of citizenship naturalization is the “Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance” in which new citizens transfer full political allegiance (but obviously not all ties and affection) from their birth nations to the United States. The Oath of Allegiance is central to who we are as a people—a nation formed not by race, ethnicity or religion, but by political loyalty to our constitutional regime. It makes sense that new citizens should clearly understand the serious moral commitment they make in renouncing all prior political allegiances and swearing loyalty to the American democratic republic. Therefore questions on the significance of the Oath of Allegiance should be incorporated into the history-government naturalization test that prospective citizens take.
Thus, when adversaries like Yasir Arafat ask visiting American Congressmen (as he has) how are “my people” in Patterson, New Jersey, our answer must be that once they take the Oath of Allegiance they are no longer your people, but “our people.” On the same principle, when a friend like Vincente Fox says that he is the leader of Mexican people, 118 million strong on both sides of the Rio Grande (as he has done) our answer must be “if they have taken the Oath of Allegiance to the United States Constitution they are no longer your people, but our people.” Obviously, one is not taking about ethnicity, cuisine, customs, or the languages other than English that one speaks, but political loyalty.
In this sense, we should stand with Theodore Roosevelt who insisted that all Americans can have only one political loyalty“ loyalty to the American people.” As Roosevelt declared, “We are a nation, not a hodge-podge of foreign nationalities. We are a people, not a polyglot boarding house.” Instinctively, after the events of September 11 we know this is true, now is the time to act upon it.
The principles guiding immigration policy should be the national interests of the United States, not the special or partisan interests of particular groups. A primary national interest of the United States related to homeland security is the successful patriotic assimilation of new immigrants and their children into the mainstream of American democracy. Thus, in principle, the overall numbers of immigrants admitted to the US should depend upon how well we are doing with patriotic assimilation and with homeland security. This is just plain common sense.
In the months since the current war began with the attacks of September 11, some immigration advocates and some ethnic leaders people who should have been the first ones to rally to our nation’s war effort have instead worked to weaken our homeland security. They even oppose deporting illegal aliens who have already gone through the full deportation appeal process and have fled law enforcement authorities essentially bail jumpers. They have opposed voluntary FBI interviews with non-citizens from the Middle East.
There was a rally in Washington on January 19 supposedly to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. Instead it became an occasion to denigrate the man at forefront of the efforts to save American lives, our great Attorney-General John Ashcroft.
Participating in this attack on the Bush Administration’s homeland security initiatives to protect Americans were representatives from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, CAIR the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Arab-American Institute, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, (MALDEF) Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Council of La Raza, the American Civil Liberties Union, and, of course, Al Sharpton.
The Houston Chronicle reported on December 16 on Muslim American ambivalence about the war against Al-Qaeda. The story quoted a 24 year-old professional woman, a mechanical engineer, born in the USA of Egyptian parents who said, “ It is naïve and unfair to tell people of a diverse country to choose between the country that they came to (live in) and the country of their origin. It is crazy to think they can pick one side or the other.”
Sixty years ago a statement presenting a very different world view was read before the United States Senate. The statement embodied patriotic assimilation. It was written by Japanese Americans. It was called the Japanese American Creed. And despite the unfair treatment that Japanese Americans suffered at that time, this is what it had to say about America:
“I believe in her institutions, ideals, and traditions; I glory in her heritage; I boast of her history; I trust in her future…. Although some individuals may discriminate against me, I shall never become bitter or lose faith, for I know that such persons are not representative of the majority of the American people.”
“I believe in America…I pledge myself to honor her at all times and in all places; to support her constitution; to obey her laws; to respect her flag; to defend her against all enemies foreign and domestic; to actively assume my duties and obligations as a citizen, cheerfully and without any reservations whatsoever, in the hope that I may become a better American in a greater America.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if advocacy groups for mass immigration said something like that in our current war against enemies---foreign and domestic?