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Jack Kemp's Huddled Masses - Idealists forget that immigration needs assimilation

John Fonte

An important bloc of conservatives who adhere to the immigration policies of the late Jack Kemp support comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) for reasons worth exploring in detail. Kemp rejected the argument that border security and enforcement of existing immigration laws should be toughened before a guest-worker program was established, explaining that enforcement-first policy could not be reconciled with “the need for future immigration to meet the demands of a growing economy.”

Similarly, Paul Ryan told the Washington Examiner in July, “I always look at [CIR] as an economic issue.” Immigration, Ryan contends, should be based on the needs of the economy, meaning that it should be employer-driven. He maintains that employers need a large increase in the number of both low-skilled and high-skilled workers and that we should therefore develop new guest-worker programs and expand existing ones in various industries. We should also legalize illegal immigrants “so long as the border and the interior enforcement is actually implemented.” The case for the immigration of more low-skilled workers, Ryan asserts, is they “bring labor to our economy so jobs can get done.” If wages were raised “too much in certain industries,” they would go out of business. In the final analysis, he argues, a large increase in the work force would spur economic growth.

Most conservatives, including Kempite idealists, are Tocquevillians in the sense that they view ideal American society as consisting of politically equal citizens who join a wide range of voluntary associations that together form civil society. These individuals, whose character has been shaped by the mediating institutions of civil society — churches, families, civic associations, clubs, etc. — participate in a free-market economy with a strong cultural base that fosters economic growth and brings prosperity and well-being to the greatest number.

Progressives view American society through a different lens. They see society as essentially binary, consisting of two main sets of groups: marginalized (victim) groups and dominant (privileged) groups. Ethnic minorities, language minorities, and women are among those belonging to marginalized groups, and whites and males are members of privileged, dominant groups. The purpose of progressive politics is “substantive equality” among the various groups. This means not simply equality of opportunity but representational equality, or parity, in all segments of society. For example, if Latinos make up 20 percent of a local work force, 20 percent of all doctors in the area should be Latinos; if they are not, there is a problem of “underrepresentation” or “disparity” in the local medical profession. Progressives employ coercive diversity and multiculturalism as weapons to implement their “new modes and orders.” These measures work to subordinate the traditional institutions of civil society to the administrative state and progressive ideology.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the diversity touted by American elites is not the genuine diversity that emerges from the activities of a free pluralistic society. Rather, it is diversity coerced through federal-government-mandated numerical “goals” and de facto quotas, ethnic and gender preferences in employment and education, and “protected classes,” an official legal status that undermines the ideal of equality under law.

This system of coercive diversity and multiculturalism, instead of assimilation into a distinctly American way of life, is what immigrants have been subjected to for decades. Schools and universities have promoted an adversarial type of multiculturalism that tells young newcomers that they belong to a victim group that has been oppressed by American society. And federal-government programs such as bilingual and multicultural education, diversity training, and multilingual voting effectively initiate immigrants into ethno-linguistic group consciousness and loyalties.

A vast administrative-legal bureaucracy, both public and private — including university and corporate diversity managers, activist lawyers, and federal, state, and local officials — implements this multicultural assimilation. Unlike the Reaganites, whose Justice Department (which included figures such as Edwin Meese, Stephen Markman, and Mark Levin) fought tooth and nail against group preferences, the Kempites (with the notable exception of Bill Bennett at Empower America) have mostly ignored the insidious advance of preference-based multiculturalism.

Kempites tend to believe that immigrant assimilation occurs naturally. But assimilation was and remains, as Norman Podhoretz has put it, “a brutal bargain.” The assimilation of the Ellis Island generation succeeded only because Progressive politicians including Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson insisted on “Americanization” and crushed the proto-multicultural activists, who were led by Horace Kallen and Randolph Bourne. Further, though controversial, the immigration-restriction legislation of the 1920s solidified the patriotic, socioeconomic, and cultural assimilation of the Ellis Island immigrants.

Assimilation today, as Ross Douthat has noted, is “stalling out.” He cites findings that third-generation Hispanics on average have lower household incomes than do the second generation, and observes wryly that “America’s leadership class . . . assumes that continued mass immigration is exactly what our economy needs.” He asks whether “an America whose native-born working class is facing a slow-burning socioeconomic crisis is really in an ideal position to assimilate low-skilled immigrants at an increasing clip.”

The multicultural-diversity approach to “immigrant integration” appears to be having a negative effect on patriotic attachment as well. A quantitative analysis of survey data commissioned by the Bradley Foundation’s Project on American National Identity found that immigrant citizens were less likely than native-born citizens to emphasize the uniqueness of America and American identity. By a margin of 67 to 37 percent, the native-born were more likely than immigrant citizens to believe that the U.S. Constitution is a higher legal authority for Americans than international law. By 81 to 50 percent, the native-born were more likely to believe that schools should focus on American citizenship rather than ethnic pride.

Comprehensive immigration reform would exacerbate the undermining of civil society. The CIR bill that passed the Senate, sponsored by Chuck Schumer and Marco Rubio, would almost double both legal immigration and the number of guest workers in the next ten years. It would legalize current illegal immigrants by providing a probationary visa immediately. This means that approximately 33 million new green cards would be issued in the coming decade. Most of the new immigrants and guest workers would be low-skilled and members of a “protected class” and therefore clients (wittingly or unwittingly) of the bureaucratic-legal coercive diversity machine. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) states that Schumer-Rubio would result in increased unemployment and falling wages for the next ten years for many working- and middle-class Americans, who have been the hardest hit during the recession.

According to the CBO, even with the inclusion of the Corker-Hoeven amendment, added to strengthen enforcement, the Senate bill would reduce illegal immigration by only one-third to one-half in the unlikely event of its ever being implemented. Testifying before Congress, Chris Crane, the head of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement union, has said that the Senate bill not only provides for “legalization first” but “actually weakens and undermines interior enforcement,” which already, along with border security, is not being fully carried out under current circumstance.

In the roughly 1,200 pages of the Schumer-Rubio bill, Obama’s political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security are granted over 1,000 exceptions to and waivers from enforcement of immigration law. In the past year, the administration has consistently refused to enforce large sections of immigration law. “Interior enforcement has been gutted” since 2008, according to Crane. There is no indication that Obama would seriously enforce any new immigration law passed by Congress, and so illegal immigration will likely continue for the next three years whether Congress acts or not. With this in mind, it is clear that House Republicans can do nothing to reach an honorable “compromise.” Killing CIR is the only reasonable course.

Instead of fostering the patriotic assimilation of immigrants to American civil society, the Senate bill provides federal funds for advocacy groups to promote immigrant integration (read: multicultural integration). This money will likely go to left-wing activists at MALDEF, La Raza, the CASA de Maryland (headed by a former Sandinista activist), and Obama’s Chicago community-organizing friends at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Responding to the criticism that such funding would be funneled to left-wing activists, Senator Rubio’s spokesman naïvely suggested that conservative groups, too, could apply to Obama’s political appointees for funds.

If comprehensive immigration reform passes Congress, we can expect more multicultural education and less civic-patriotic education; more demands for preferential treatment of ethnic groups in employment and education; more “diversity” administrators in government, corporations, and universities; more demands for government multilingual services; more “disparate impact” litigation from the ACLU and MALDEF; more demands for proportional representation of groups whose members belong to “protected classes”; more low-income cradle-to-grave clients, à la “Life of Julia,” for the welfare state; more wage stagnation for American workers; more cries of “discrimination”; and much bragging from President Obama on the great landmark achievement of “comprehensive immigration reform.”

The idealist vision of Jack Kemp and his successors has led to much good policy analysis for American conservatism and has provided a needed optimistic tone to the agenda of the American center-Right. On immigration and assimilation, however, Kempites should observe the reality of 2013 instead of indulging in nostalgia for 1913. The Kempite immigration agenda, as even Paul Ryan has argued, focuses almost exclusively on economics at the cost of addressing questions of politics, assimilation, culture, and the American regime itself. Both Obama and the Kempites envision large-scale low-income immigration as promoting their version of the good society. But they can’t both be right.

Obama and his fellow progressives believe in the primacy of politics, both low and high. With comprehensive immigration reform they immediately gain advantage in the low politics of partisanship, reaping millions of new Democratic voters. In the high politics of regime change at home, CIR advances the cause of “fundamentally transforming America” by subordinating civil society to the state and leftist ideology.

Many Kempites apparently believe that culturally conservative low-income immigrants are “natural Republicans.” Overwhelming evidence, however, including over four decades of electoral results, suggests otherwise. True, middle-class immigrants and their children often change political attitudes, but CIR’s unending flow of low-skilled labor favors the progressives in the long run. Latinos have been compared to Italian immigrants in the past. Fair enough, but, as Michael Barone notes, it took about 80 years for Italians to turn to the Republican party in large numbers. Even that change was facilitated not just by the passage of time but also by the immigration pause from the 1920s to the 1960s, which stopped the influx of lower-skilled workers.

Unlike Obama and the progressives, Kemp and his successors have always had trouble understanding that politics, including immigration politics, is a zero-sum game. In politics both high and low, there are winners and losers. If progressives are the winners, conservatives are the losers. Most important, Kempites have never really understood and never confronted the regime-transforming nature of coercive diversity and adversarial multiculturalism.

In late August, President Obama’s closest adviser, Valerie Jarrett, told a group of Obama supporters “that when we look back 50 years from now,” CIR will rank alongside health care as one of Obama’s two greatest accomplishments. Jarrett, Obama, and the liberal establishment recognize the transformative nature of CIR and understand how mass immigration of low-skilled workers combined with the permanent powerful diversity machine of the state would undermine civil society and forever alter America’s limited-government system. Unfortunately, some on the right do not see it. It is time for the Kempites to rethink their long-standing assumptions about immigration and assimilation policy.

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