Excerpts from an Immigration Symposium posted by FrontPage Magazine, October 6-7, 2007
October 6, 2007
by John Fonte
The following are excerpts from an Immigration Symposium posted by FrontPageMagazine on the weekend of October 6-7.
In total there were five participants. They included: Clint Bolick (Goldwater Center for Constitutional Litigation), Linda Chavez (Center for Equal Opportunity), John Fonte (Hudson Institute), Joe Hicks (Community Advocates, Inc.), Mark Krikorian (Center for Immigration Studies). These excerpts include only the back and forth debate on assimilation among Linda Chavez, Clint Bolick, and John Fonte. To access the entire 31 page symposium click here
….But let me step back for a moment, after all for decades we have all been on the “same side” of the core arguments over the future of America. For the sake of argument let’s say that Linda [Chavez] and Clint [Bolick] are right, that our 21st century high tech U.S. economy “needs” hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers (in effect, high school drop-outs) in order to function well. And, at the same time, all of us want to dismantle our current anti-assimilation legal regime.
For example, I would like to end bi-lingual education, dual allegiance voting by naturalized citizens in their birth nations, foreign language voting in US elections; the existence of Executive Order 13166 that mandates multilingualism in all federally funded organizations; and any affirmative action for new immigrants.
In this context, I have a question for Linda and Clint: would you agree to end these anti-assimilation measures before we increase low-skilled immigration? If you agreed to an assimilation-first approach, many of us would be a lot more open to arguments over the specific labor concerns of particular sectors of the economy.
Do I support what John [Fonte] describes as removing anti-assimilation measures? Absolutely---and more. Our courts today likely would uphold limits on welfare benefits for newcomers. In fact, I think all of that is a useful part of a comprehensive immigration bill. Do I support making all of that a prerequisite to boosting legal immigration? No. Immigrants are not responsible for our crazy welfare state. Forcing them to remain in countries that are bereft of opportunity while we take on the welfare state is unfair. Addressing perversities in our welfare and assimilation policies is something we should do in tandem with creating a path to citizenship for newcomers.
Clint stated: “The question I raise is whether there is any common ground between us?” I tried to do that and offered an “assimilation-first” (not assimilation-only) compromise in the last round, but Clint turned me down. Nevertheless, I still hope that the possibility of compromise exists because everyone in this debate is for national security, patriotic assimilation, and a strong American economy. Let us assume that we have reached an enforcement compromise and I will talk only about assimilation.
Let me address Linda first and then I will get back to Clint.
Linda, you wrote in a syndicated column (“Mexican Law to Challenge Loyalties,” Creators Syndicate, April 7, 1998) on potential problems of dual allegiance among Mexican immigrants to the United States.
“Never before has the United States had to face a problem of dual loyalties among its citizens of such a great magnitude and proximity. Although some other countries?such as Israel, Columbia, and the Dominican Republic also allow dual nationality?no other nation sends as many immigrants to the United States nor shares a common border. For the first time, millions of US citizens could declare their allegiance to a foreign country.”
In the article you then discuss a series of changes since the 1960s that have diminished national loyalty and cohesion and make this statement.
“All of these changes, no doubt erode loyalty to the United States but, until now, have involved relatively few people. What is significant about the change in the Mexican law is its potential to affect so many newcomers at a time when other pressures also diminish attachments to the immigrants’ adopted nation. Unlike previous immigrant groups, Mexicans travel only a short distance…. Not only can they travel easily back and forth, keeping ties to their homeland stronger, but many live in large immigrant enclaves in the United States, where Spanish is heard more frequently than English….”
You were right to see increasing dual citizenship, particularly dual allegiance voting (along with bilingual education, foreign language voting, and Clinton’s executive order 13166 promoting official multilingualism), as a challenge to American national unity.
There is plenty of evidence that “Americanization” or patriotic assimilation is not proceeding as well as we would like. The Portes and Rumbaut longitudinal study reports that children of immigrants are not “assimilating” but “selectively acculturating.” That is to say, they are learning English, but identifying emotionally (in terms of national identity) increasing with their parents’ birth nation (Mexico, El Salvador, etc.) instead of with the USA. The Pew Hispanic survey taken about seven months after 9/11, shows the same pattern. Only 34% of Latinos (who are American citizens) considered themselves Americans first. 42% identified with the old country, first; and 24% considered themselves as pan-ethnic, as “Latino” or “Hispanic” first. Remember these are American citizens.
The person in charge of “integration” in Illinois, working directly for the Governor, Jose Luis Gutierrez, is a dual Mexican and US citizen. He told the Chicago Tribune, “The nation-state concept is changing. You don’t have to say, I am Mexican or I am American. You can be a good Mexican citizen and a good American citizen and not have that be a conflict of interest. Sovereignty is flexible.”
Linda, these attitudes are the direct result of mass immigration without assimilation. But you and I have often found common ground on assimilation. Therefore I propose the following compromise?we enact an “assimilation-first” policy (ending: dual allegiance voting in one’s birth nation; foreign language voting in US elections; the executive order 13166 that legalized multilingualism; and bi-lingual education). Once these measures were realized my side would then agree to increase immigration. These two initiatives cannot be done in tandem (as Clint suggests) because, as good conservatives, we don’t trust the federal government. The governing elites would simply prefer to increase immigration and not bother with assimilation, if they could get away with it. So if we are going to get real assimilation (Americanization), we would have to insure that it comes first. What do you say Linda, is there common ground here? You get your increased immigration for the work force and both of us get guaranteed assimilation?
Clint, you have turned this compromise down. You stated that, “forcing them [potential immigrants] to remain in countries that are bereft of opportunities…[while we address assimilation] is unfair.” This is a convoluted argument on a number of grounds. You are saying that if we look out for America’s national interest by insisting that we assimilate immigrants already in America before we increase immigration, we are being “unfair;” you are saying that it is somehow America’s fault because we are “forcing” people to remain in their own countries.
Well, as John F. Kennedy used to say, “life is unfair.” For example, on the whole, it is better to be born in the US than in Bangladesh. Should it be American national policy to try to make life, “fair” for everyone in the world? Presumably only a John Rawls philosophical utopian leftist would think so.
Clint, you seem to be telling us is that assimilation is really a secondary matter to you, not of crucial importance. Assimilation is fine, but you could live without it. Your bottom line appears to be: increase immigration, and the rest, including assimilation, is expendable. I hope you change your mind.
Linda, what is your response to the proposed compromise?
….And speaking of the Pew Hispanic Center, I’m not sure which Pew study my friend John is referring to when he cites low American identity among Hispanics. It is true that most of the foreign-born (who now comprise half the Latino population) identify primarily with their country of origin or as Latinos or Hispanics, as do their children. But among the third generation, according to the 2002 National Survey of Latinos commissioned by the Pew Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 57 percent use “American” as the only (or first) term to describe their identity, while 97 percent have used “American” to describe themselves at some point. (I am betting that the remaining 3 percent include a disproportionate number of tenured college professors and Chicano activists from the ‘60s) Even among the foreign-born, nearly a third had described themselves as American at some point in their lives, as had 85 percent of their children. Given our preoccupation with reinforcing ethnic identity through multicultural education, preferences in college admission and the like, we shouldn’t be surprised that not all third-generation Hispanics identify exclusively as American.
But John’s challenge makes no sense. I oppose dual citizenship, preferences based on race or ethnicity (and sex), bilingual education, multi-lingual ballots, etc., and have spent my entire professional career trying to rid the country of these policies. But if we were to eliminate net immigration tomorrow, we’d still be stuck with this nonsense for the foreseeable future. The primary beneficiaries of affirmative action remain American-born blacks—not foreign-born Latinos or immigrant blacks for that matter. While a few colleges may appoint Peruvian- or Nigerian-born professors to fulfill their diversity quotients, it is American-born blacks, and to a considerable lesser extent Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, who benefit from such programs, especially in college admissions. And the federal bilingual education program was created in 1968 primarily for Mexican American children, not for immigrants (as counter-intuitive as that might seem), and was later modified to include a bicultural component aimed specifically at Mexican Americans. So, too, bilingual ballots were added to the 1975 amendments to the Voting Rights Act as an appeasement to Mexican American and Puerto Rican groups clamoring for the same clout in drawing voting district lines as blacks had attained, not because there were large numbers of non-English speaking persons eligible to vote.
I support large-scale immigration and assimilation because both are good for the country. The latter happens more or less naturally, despite the best efforts of the ethnic lobbies; and the former leads to a higher standard of living for all Americans by feeding new workers into America’s job-creating machine. I’d like to see more efforts on the part of government to encourage assimilation, but even the ill-conceived policies John and I deplore have not stopped the assimilation from proceeding apace. I don’t worry that we’ll be overwhelmed by people who want to re-create their homelands here. Even among immigrant groups that tried to do so—most prominently, German immigrants in the 19th Century—their efforts failed. American culture is simply too attractive and immigrants too eager to succeed for there to be much cause for concern.
The ultimate key to America’s success or failure with immigration in the 21st century remains, as it always has been, with the concept of “patriotic assimilation” or “Americanization.” Will the newcomers and their descendants (including Muslims, as well as Latinos, Asians, and Europeans) become patriotic Americans or will they be ambivalent or indifferent to Americanization? In the last round I described Jose Luis Gutierrez, the head of the office of assimilation for the Governor of Illinois. Gutierrez, a dual US-Mexican citizen told the Chicago Tribune he is part of a “third nation” that transcends the borders, that “sovereignty is flexible.” Clearly, Gutierrez is not patriotically assimilated; he is ambivalent about America. He is not, Linda and Clint, a woolly-headed academic or Chicano studies professor, but a major political aide to the Governor of an important state; and, unfortunately, he could be the face of the future.
Linda, I am going to continue to explore the assimilation issue with you in some detail. Pew Hispanic Center/Kaiser Family Foundation 2002 National Survey of Latinos (pg 31) states:
…Hispanics who are American citizens are still more likely to identity themselves primarily by country of origin [or parent’s origin] (44% than to identify primarily as an “American” (33%) or as a “Latino” or “Hispanic” (22%).
Linda, these are all American citizens either native-born or naturalized. The new citizens have gone through the moving naturalization ceremony and taken an oath of loyalty to the US and “renounced” all previous allegiance. The survey was taken 7-9 months after 9/11 at the height of patriotic fervor across the country. These results are very disappointing only 33% of Latinos who are American citizens consider themselves “first and foremost Americans,” as the Pew Report, itself, puts it. This is empirical evidence that rebuts the non-empirical happy talk by Tamar Jacoby and others that new immigrants are somehow “more patriotic” than the native-born.
You note that “among the third generation” 57% consider themselves primarily Americans. More accurately this category (pg 30) is described as (“third generation and higher.”) Thus, the 57% would include Latinos whose families have been in US territory for hundreds of years, like your own family. Moreover, 41% in this category consider their primary identity as either family’s origin country (Mexican, etc.) or Latino/Hispanic, and 1% don’t claim any of the three identities. Thus, the 57% pro-American identity figure that you tout is rather tepid. One would think it would be more than 90% in the days after 9/11. Indeed, the Pew report also notes that, “even among Hispanics born in the United States, fewer than half (46%) choose to identity themselves as an American first” (pg. 29).
Linda, as proof of the success of assimilation you often point to the Rumbaut-Portes longitudinal study of the children of immigrants. You usually refer to Rumbaut-Portes findings that the children of immigrants are learning English. This is true enough.
However, your use of Rumbaut-Portes is selective. These researchers also found that although knowledge of English increased American identity decreased.
“we should have seen an increase over time in the proportion of youths identifying themselves as American, with or without a hyphen, and a decrease in the proportion retaining an attachment to a foreign national identity. But…the results…point in exactly the opposite direction.”
In plain language, linguistic assimilation has increased, but patriotic assimilation has decreased. Moreover, the heightened salience (or importance) of the foreign identity is very strong. Portes and Rumbaut declare that “foreign national identities command the strongest level of allegiance and attachment ” and that the plain “American” category “emerges as the thinnest identity.”
Rumbaut-Portes further state:
“In this survey Hispanics demonstrate a very strong association with their countries of origin…identifying as ‘Mexicans,’ ‘Cubans,’ etc…whether it be their birthplace or their parents’ or a land that ancestors hailed from generations ago. In most cases that association is stronger than their identity as ‘Americans.”
Linda you state that assimilation “happens more or less naturally” and cite the case of German immigrants assuring us that American culture is too attractive and there is little cause for concern. Actually many German immigrants were not very well assimilated in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, there were public schools taught in the German language in Midwest cities. For many German immigrants assimilation finally came through coercion during World War I, when American authorities suppressed use of the German language and ethnic organizations.
In the 1890s Theodore Roosevelt decried a “laissez-faire” immigration policy and, later, he (and his chief political rival Woodrow Wilson) launched government-backed programs that insisted upon the “Americanization” of immigrants. Besides positive government and private sector promotion, in the final analysis, assimilation was tremendously aided by the immigration restriction legislation of the 1920s. Although I would probably have opposed that legislation had I been around at the time, realistically, it is hard to deny that the 1920s restriction legislation aided the social cohesion of the “greatest generation” during World War II. They all became Americans?not “Italians, Germans, Poles, and Jews in America.”
None of the above suggests that assimilation happened “naturally” in the past, nor will it in the future without conscious “Americanization-promotion” by both the public and private sectors.
Therefore the basis for my compromise proposal still stands: assimilation first and then we could proceed with the increased immigration in the sectors of the economy where needed, as you suggest. In the last round, you and Clint rejected this proposal.
Permit me to go even further in the effort to get a compromise agreement. (Remember we are assuming an agreement on security concerns) Would you (and you too Clint) accept any of the four assimilation pre-conditions I listed or any other assimilation pre-condition before increasing immigration? At that point we would have an agreement in principle (the principle that increased immigration must be tied to successful assimilation) and the possibility of a conservative compromise. If not you are saying, in effect, that all that matters to you is increasing immigration and that assimilation is a rather secondary concern. If this is true, then the possibility of intra-conservative compromise on the core principles of immigration-assimilation reform are bleak indeed.
No other responses (see transcript for all comments).
John Fonte is a Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson's Center for American Common Culture.
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