A Noah’s Ark or a nation state? seems to be the question posed by the U.S. immigration policy. “Eviction[s] because of building charcoal fires indoors or slaughtering animals in the bathtub” are only some of the problems facing immigrant Hmong and Mein tribesmen in California. Others are “their medicinal use of opium, their capturing of young brides . . . and other practices . . . resulting in legal problems that bring them confusion and shame.”

At the Oakland mail inspection station, 249 pounds of opium sent from Laos and Thailand were discovered last year. In one case. Lieu Sinh Saechao, 35, is charged “with receiving a package containing over 10 pounds of opium from a relative.” Some U.S. officials, however, are not overly sympathetic to such folkways. “This is a drug just like any other drug,” contends Nancy L. Simpson, Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting the Saechao case.

But other officials, in other cases and departments, are more understanding. In New York City, Mr. Neftali Valencia, a Colombian who came to the U.S. after a sham marriage to an American in 1980, has been given a work permit. Though Valencia had no record of arrests, unpaid taxes, and parking tickets (as many of his illegal friends do), he had perjured himself and broken the law. “I didn’t believe it until I saw that card,” remarked a Mario Seville Sanchez, also an illegal immigrant, of Valencia’s good fortune.

Close to a million illegals have taken advantage of the new immigration law. Others, like the Salvadorans (500,000 in the last several years), Nicaraguans (200,000), and other Hispanics, are still welcomed by a civil disobedience movement in the Southwest. The American Embassy in El Salvador predicts an “astronomical increase” in applications for visas in the 1990’s as Salvadorans seek to join their amnestied relatives in the United States.

That, however, is of no concern to anyone but a growing number of Americans, increasingly uncomfortable in their own changing, multilingual, and multicultural country.