February 6, 2006
by John Fonte
The success of American immigration policy ultimately depends upon how well we assimilate newcomers as patriotic Americans. Duke Professor Noah Pickus rightly declares that it is time to get serious about assimilation in his insightful new book, "True Faith and Allegiance."
Pickus articulates the case for a moderate "civic nationalism" that draws upon (but updates) America's patriotic assimilationist tradition from James Madison to Theodore Roosevelt to Barbara Jordan.
It is unfortunate that in a country that prides itself on being a "nation of immigrants" a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal pollrevealed that 48 percent of Americans believe that immigration "weakens" rather than "strengthens" our country (41 percent). This distressing attitude toward immigration is the result of neglect. For years, the elite classes have ignored assimilation and today these same "enablers" of our broken immigration system want to make the situation worse.
Big Business, Big Labor, church clergy, ethnic advocates and immigration lawyers support legislation — McCain-Kennedy — that will provide for an eventual amnesty for the estimated 11 million illegal aliens currently in the United States. The bill will also increase immigration by 400,000 annually.
But the same legislation does little to promote allegiance. For example, almost all of the millions of new citizens would be eligible for dual citizenship, which includes voting and holding high political office in their birth nations.
All of the bill's supporters are invested in increasing their own special interest's power. But these K Street business lobbyists, union bosses and church bishops do not speak for many of their own flock — local business people, rank-and-file union members and average church parishioners.
They do not speak for the majority of Americans, most of whom believe in decreasing, not increasing, immigration. This may be unfortunate, but it is most likely the result of the unwillingness of elites in government, business, churches and ethnic lobbies to secure our borders and assimilate newcomers.
The people's voice on immigration is being heard, as the Founders envisioned, by the House of Representatives. Rep. James Sensenbrenner's (R-Wis.) bipartisan bill (supported by most Republicans and 36 Democrats) would build a security fence on the border and permit local police to cooperate with federal officials to keep illegals out.
Significantly, the Sensenbrenner measure also codifies the Oath of Allegiance into law, which demands that new citizens renounce political loyalty to their birth nations. Meanwhile, the immigrant-sending countries are informed that their former citizens have transferred political allegiance to the United States. This serious legal provision will strengthen patriotic assimilation and national loyalty.
McCain-Kennedy, on the other hand, offers only more studies and reports on border security and actually weakens the interior enforcement authority of local police in terms of immigration violations.
The Bush administration, for its part, declares it "strongly supports" the Sensenbrenner bill, while seeking to add guest worker provisions to any legislation.
As Congress and the administration debate immigration policy, let's hope that our lawmakers will, as Pickus argues, strengthen, not weaken, the patriotic assimilation of newcomers. And this time national interests in border security and immigrant allegiance will trump the special interests lobbies.
John Fonte is a Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson's Center for American Common Culture.
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