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America's Assimilation System Is Broken

John Fonte

On Monday, Hudson Institute published a paper entitled “America’s Patriotic Assimilation System Is Broken,” which I co-authored with social scientist Althea Nagai.

Nagai’s quantitative analysis of Harris Interactive survey data revealed that the evidence of patriotic assimilation of immigrant citizens to American identity is weak and ambiguous compared with that of native-born citizens.

Over 20 survey questions on issues of patriotic attachment and civic knowledge, there was a large gap between native-born and naturalized citizens. Some findings of the Harris survey (originally commissioned by the Bradley Foundation Project on American National Identity) are listed below:

  • By 30 points (84.6 percent to 54 percent), native-born citizens are more likely than naturalized citizens to consider themselves “U.S. citizens” rather than “citizens of the world.”
  • By 30 points (67.3 percent to 37 percent), the native-born are more likely than immigrant citizens to believe that the U.S. Constitution is a higher legal authority than international law if there’s conflict between the two.
  • By 21 points (64.8 percent to 43.6 percent), the native-born are more likely than naturalized citizens to believe that “America is better than other countries” as opposed to “the US is a country like any other, and is no better or worse than other nations.
  • By roughly 31 points (81.2 percent to 49.5 percent), the native-born are more likely than naturalized citizens to believe that “our schools” should focus on the “rights and responsibilities of citizenship and pride in being part of America” rather than on “each student’s ethnic identity” and their “pride in their own heritage and ethnic group.”
  • By 23 points (82 percent to 59 percent), the native-born are more likely than naturalized citizens to believe that it is “very important for the future of the American political system that all citizens be able to speak and read English.”

The Harris survey also asked four questions on American government and history taken directly from the U.S.‘s citizenship test. On all of these questions the native-born scored better than naturalized citizens, with the difference between performance of the two populations being 19, 19, 14, and 12 percentage points.

What does this mean and what are the policy implications? First of all, this gap should not be blamed on the immigrants. It is our fault, not theirs. For about 40 years since the 1970s, we have been sending the wrong message to newcomers. American elites (in universities, schools, the media, philanthropic organizations, corporations, government, and law) have promoted multiculturalism and ethnic-gender-linguistic group consciousness at the expense of Americanization, patriotic integration, and individual citizenship.

Beyond simply promoting multicultural ideology, progressive elites (with acquiescence and often vigorous support from major corporations) have established an administrative-legal regime that enforces ethnic-gender group proportionalism. Today, immigrants are being assimilated into this multicultural regime. Government agencies designed to assist immigrant integration are, in fact, bastions of multiculturalism and bilingualism.

For example, in Illinois, a governor’s task force tells state agencies to establish comprehensive “linguistic and cultural [i.e., multicultural] competency training” for all state staff and to recruit bilingual teachers from Spain. Massachusetts rejects the idea of “pushing children to learn English as quickly as possible.” Maryland promotes the maintenance of immigrants’ birth languages to preserve the “core identities” of immigrant children. Indiana supports the use of curricula that “reflect the culture, values, interests, and concerns of language minority students.”

Could one imagine early 20th-century progressives such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson importing Italian- and Polish-language teachers to promote bilingual education among American immigrant children? Or changing school curricula to emphasize Italian and Polish ethnic studies over American history and government? 

One hundred years ago, the levels of large-scale immigration meant major demographic changes in the United States. Polish and Sicilian peasants, Jewish immigrants from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, the Greeks and Lebanese from the Levant, and many others represented immigrants as different in perception (ethnically, culturally, religiously, linguistically) from the native-born of 1913 as today’s immigrants do from the native-born of 2013. The response of America’s leadership class to the “changing demographics” of 1913 was not multiculturalism, bilingualism, group preferences, affirmative action, ethnic studies, and diversity training, but Americanization and patriotic assimilation by schools, universities, corporations, the press, and all the leading institutions.

Instead, what has happened today is that, for decades, our leading institutions, especially the federal government, have created barriers to patriotic integration. We are told repeatedly that our immigration system is “broken.” Yes, but our patriotic assimilation system is also “broken,” and any solution for immigration would have to fix the assimilation component as well. Real immigration reform would mean serious, comprehensive assimilation reform.

This would mean, first and foremost, removing federal barriers to patriotic assimilation by cutting off all government funding for multicultural and bilingual education and diversity training, and the like, before determining whether the we should embark on a new low-skilled guest-worker program.

We should promote a truly welcoming system of patriotic integration, based on equality of individual citizenship (not group rights), that would seize the moral high ground by removing all federal government barriers to full Americanization and do so now, while immigration policy has captured national attention.

The full report is here.

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