OPINIONSrnMyths and Mistakesrnby Paul GottfriedrnWhat all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damnedrnfools said would happen has come to pass.”rn—Lord MelbournernThe Immigration Mystique:rnAmerica’s False Consciencernhy Chilton Williamson, jr.rnNew York: Basic Books;rn202 pp., $23.00rnIn this highly informative book,rnChilton Williamson, Jr., walks usrnthrough the tortuous history of Americanrnimmigration policy. Along the wayrnhe draws attention to critical milestones,rnsuch as the 1924 Naturalization Act andrnthe congressional legislation since 1965rnbearing on immigration and nationality.rnWilliamson relates these and other legislativernattempts to deal with immigrationrnto a social and economic context.rnBut even more importantly, he looksrnat the cultural and emotional circumstancesrnsurrounding “immigrationrnreforms.” This historical thinking is entirelyrnjustihed. Not all immigration legislationrnhas followed economic logic inrnthe manner of the Naturalization Act ofrn1924. When in the early 1920’s thernI’nited States had enough unskilledrnlabor and many feared the socially disruptiverneffects of further lower-class immigration,rnparticularly on radicalizedrnAmerican workers, Congress moved tornreduce the immigration rates. In 1965,rnwhen Congress supported expanded immigrationrnfrom what turned out to bernthe Third Wodd, it clearly was not followingrnany general economic interest. Itrnmay have been supplying some businessmenrnwith cheap labor, but this came atrnthe expense of the minorities and immigrantsrnalready here, and increased immigrationrnraised the cost for social services,rnwhich fell on the population as a whole.rnThe new immigration policy was alsornPau/ Gottfried is a professor of humanitiesrnat Ehzabethtown College inrnPennsylvania.rnjustified in terms of enhancing Americanrndiversity, but Williamson properlyrnasks why this should be considered particularlyrndesirable. By the mid-60’s, thernUnited States was already an ethnicallyrndiverse nation facing racial strife andrnescalating social violence. Though therncountry had problems, a lack of diversityrnwas not one of them.rnWilliamson maintains that one canrnonly understand the 1965 act by lookingrnat how clergymen, journalists, and politiciansrnwere reconstructing the Americanrnself-image. Americans were being burdenedrnwith a false guilty consciencernabout not having practiced their heritagernof caring globalism, a heritage that wasrnmostly fictitious and had nothing to dornwith the way immigration had beenrnviewed in the past. What had been arnstrictly utilitarian means for settling arnvast frontier land and providing infantrnindustries with workers was now turnedrninto an ideology, one that prohibited nationalrndistinctions or democraticallyrnagreed on limits to further demographicrnchange. Williamson notes that popularrnacceptance of the 1965 act was shapedrnby the “potent myth” of redemption beingrngiven to political sinners. No matterrnwhere it led and how deceitfully it wasrnpresented, Americans had to stick byrnthat commitment to openness. It wasrndepicted as the final tribute to a slainrnPresident, John F. Kennedy, who hadrncalled for a repeal of the 1924 NaturalizationrnAct in his ghosted book A Nationrnof Immigrants. Kennedy’s brothers,rnRobert and Edward, had kept this factrnbefore the public in pressing for a newrnimmigration law. Besides, it was the recognizedrn”gods of the [civil rights] pantheon”rnwho became the tutelary spiritsrnfor a future borderless America. Religiousrnand political leaders, Williamsonrnshows, seized on the parallel betweenrnpulling down racial barriers at home andrnthrowing open America’s borders.rnUnlike other critics of immigration,rnWilliamson does not make the questionablernassertion that increased immigrationrnwas simply a trick foisted on thernunsuspecting. He offers a histoire dernmentalite that sets the enhrc issue in perspective.rnOne outstanding merit of his book isrnthe graceful style in which it approachesrna controversial topic. First andrnforemost a man of letters, Williamsonrndoes not seem concerned about winningrnlegislative battles or devastating politicalrnopponents. Despite his stated intent, atrnleast in conversation, to take no prisoners,rnhis book is unfailingly courteousrneven toward those with whom he sharplyrndisagrees. He points out that honestrnmistakes were committed by some legislatorsrnwho underestimated the effectsrnand size of increased immigration. Hernalso takes pains to allow the other side tornNOVEMBER 1996/31rnrnrn