Jacob Neusner, Graduate Research Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies, University of South Florida Martin Buber Professor of Judaic Studies, University of Frankfurt
Immigration nourishes America, affirming the power of its national ideal: a society capable of remaking the entire world in the image of humanity in democracy. No country in the world other than this distant magnet of ours exercises so compelling a power to win for itself the commitment of strangers: we want to be with you and like you, share what is yours and give what is ours to share. When we lose faith in the power of this country and its unique social system to take the foreigner and make the stranger one of us—in our image, after our likeness—and make ourselves over too, we shall deny the power that has made us unique among other nations.
The perpetual encounter with the other, the faith in our way of life that gives us confidence in our power to change and to be changed by the stranger—these on-going experiences, and the attitudes that make them possible, explain who we are as a nation. So far as ours is a story bearing direction and meaning, it is the tale of newcomers coming to be changed by, and to change, the country and its land. Ours has been a history of immigration from the start to today: first came the West Europeans and Africans, then the East Europeans and Asians, and now South Asians and Latin Americans, all colors, shapes, sizes, languages. No other nation in history and none today exercises such power over the mind and imagination of outsiders.
Those of us who regard the social order as critical, who see the laws and institutions and traditions of this country as the best humanity has ever had, must find the immigrants’ commitment a rich resource for conserving all that we affirm. For the immigrant, whether my mother’s grandmother, leaving as a young woman from Odessa, or this morning’s young Irish woman from Dublin, or young black man from Jamaica, or Mexican crossing a border that, a hundred and fifty years ago, did not separate him from his destination in the north, looks for a better life, takes initiative, shows the enterprise that sustains the free economy. Immigration brings to this country the already grownup and ready to work, the already educated: a rich investment in nurture and education by foreign economies has readied the immigrant for productive work with us, in this country.
Though with Thomas Fleming I find myself in agreement on most issues, on the real American dilemma, as he characterizes immigration, I cannot concur. His seems to me to be not a conservative position at all, since conservative opinion has always affirmed the power of received traditions and institutions to govern the social order. And our system has not only accommodated difference but has always been nurtured and perpetually been nourished by it. America has stood from the beginning for the capacity to make of anyone a real American. Conservative opinion, favoring as it does the rights and immunities of Americans, cannot now despair of the tradition that, from the first, has defined this society.
Migration from what he calls the Third World as much as the First and Second ones replenishes our work force; absent jobs, people would not come, or would come and go home (as many do). Ours is not a declining population, like that of Europe. But unlike the Europeans, we can make Americans of the dark-skinned as much as the light-skinned people, Muslims as much as Anglicans, Hindus as much as Jews. A German professor once said to me, speaking of the Turkish immigrants in Germany, “But they can never really become Germans like us. They are not even Christian.” I: “Yes, so the Jews found out too.” But for us, there is nothing un-American about Muslim faith, and the Turk as much as the Italian or the Pole or the Norwegian or the Brazilian or the Mexican will in due course find a home and a welcome here. That is how it has always been. Our system—our social order—being what it is, that is how it always will be.
My great grandmother knew nothing of the “Pilgrim Fathers,” but Thanksgiving Day is very much mine. And the Chicano youngster in California will one day identify, as much as I do, with the Declaration of Independence. True, my family would bring to America a different religion from the dominant one and so would change America, and the Chicano today brings us a second language—Spanish in addition to English, one that may last longer than did Polish or Yiddish or Italian or Norwegian or Finnish, each in its day. I hope it does, because through Spanish, which opens to us the experience of a whole world to our south, we shall be a still more interesting country than we already are: more of humanity’s experience will be ours.
Why then wish we all could be what America really never was, a false vision of an America that was all white, though we have always been black as well as white; all Protestant, though we have never known a merely narrowly-defined single Protestant faith; all descended from the normal Northern and Western European lines (but then, better English than German, better Scottish than Irish)? Now there is no turning back. For there is no past to which to turn for the normal, by which to declare the present abnormal, except a meretricious and fabricated one. I shall fear for America when nearly everybody in the world no longer wants to come and become one with us.
Race a problem? Nothing new about that. If it is a problem, it began in 1619, when the first Africans were forcibly brought to this country, and not in 1865 or in 1945. Racial diversity has characterized this country from the beginning: black, red, white, joined by yellow and brown. A nation “no longer stratified simply by class” has always been hierarchized by race, and if today racial groups compete on racial terms alone for top positions, that is something to which we conservatives have long objected in the name of the hierarchy of talent. So, in all, I find in the newest mass migration only evidence for the astonishing success of the American system. No other nation in the world has the power that we take for granted, to take to ourselves millions of people, decade by decade, and accord to them all the same opportunity that the native-born enjoy. Black, yellow, white, red, brown—these all are the all-American colors and shades of skin; it is much too late to conceive otherwise, and the same is so of language and religion and the geographical origins of one’s family. And I wouldn’t want it any other way: a greater, not a smaller, America surely stands for what we conservatives affirm.
John Lukacs, Author, Outgrowing Democracy and Confessions of an Original Sinner
Thomas Fleming’s article (“The Real American Dilemma Chronicles, March 1989) was a deeply felt and yet moderate statement about a condition that, in this historian’s opinion, is even more than a dilemma. It is the great, perhaps the greatest, American problem. It is a pity that it is not publicly (though it is often privately) so recognized by Americans. It is to the honor of Chronicles for having recognized it thus.
Upon the invitation of Chronicles I will try to sum up, necessarily briefly and at the cost of precision, my beliefs and anxieties concerning this vast problem.
We face not only immigration but migration, too. The first, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “to settle in a country (not one’s own).” The second means “to pass from one place to another.” “Migration” suggests impermanence: a nomadic, or near-nomadic condition of existence. “Immigration” suggests something more definite: a more-or-less orderly purpose, “to settle.” In the present crisis in the United States these two categories overlap. They are indistinct, to the peril of this nation. The American government and its military instruments have largely lost control over their southern borders. If that is not a matter of national security (that inflated, corrupted, and overused term) I do not know what is.
The conditions of electoral arithmetic and of public discourse lead to a conscious avoidance of this subject. The advocacies of our—so-called—conservatives are as opportunistic and thoughtless as those of our—so-called—liberals.
Entire generations of American youth have now been unaware that, no matter what the present ethnic composition of the United States, the inherited freedoms of this country are not abstract liberties but freedoms bequeathed to Americans from the British Isles, largely during the 18th century, from which all of the constitutional principles of this country derive.
All of this becomes especially important now when tribal and racial ambitions in many parts of the world are erupting at the same time when large-scale migrations have begun. To believe that the United States, because of some divine dispensation, or in virtue of the abundance of automobiles and color television sets available to its population, is or will be immune to those dangers of centrifugal crumbling that now beset the Russian Empire, is not only thoughtless but irresponsible. These present and future dangers include not only tribal savagery and domestic disorders but the potential disruption of the very framework of the Republic.
That is the prime matter of American national security: not whether Americans should or should not support Afghans or Azerbaijanis or Bessarabians or Nicaraguans or Honduran “Freedom Fighters”; nor, as Section Nine of the platform of the Republican Party as early as 1956 (!) stated, that our aim should be “the establishment of American naval and air bases all around the world.” The italics are mine.
Lawrence A. Uzzell, John M. Olin Media Fellow, Hoover Institution
Last fall San Franciscans voted on whether to provide benefits for the unmarried lovers of city employees, including homosexuals. To the horror of the gay-rights establishment, the referendum narrowly lost. The margin almost certainly came from the “no” votes of Asian-American and Mexican-American immigrants.
Opponents of mass immigration may have the wrong answer, but they ask the right question. Do immigrants further poison our already sick culture? If so we should keep them out, no matter how much they may help our economy. But if they bring antidotes to our homegrown decadence, we should welcome them.
Consider the attack on the family—perhaps the gravest current threat to our heritage, backed by most of the Fortune 500 as well as the media and government. Who provides more recruits to feminism: Latin and Confucian newcomers, or native suburbanites? Who signs up for the National Organization of Women, who demands value-free sex education and round-the-clock daycare centers?
Vietnamese-American students rebuke their classmates for their rudeness to teachers. Refugees from Afghanistan refuse to enroll their children in coed gym classes. Mexican-Americans stubbornly honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, not Frosty the Snowman. We need more such citizens, not fewer.
The strongest point against immigrants is that they are strangers to the Anglo-American constitutional tradition. True, this tradition cannot be learned overnight—but it doesn’t have to be. First-generation immigrants are too busy for politics; what counts is their children and grandchildren, up for grabs like everyone else in our untidy ideological marketplace. Over time. South European ethnics such as Antonin Scalia may do as much to restore our Constitution as the WASP Abraham Lincoln or the Scandinavian Earl Warren did to destroy it.
It is the converts to a tradition who bring the most imagination and vigor to its defense. Consider the Disraeli family. Consider the post-World War II conservative revival in America, the leadership of which came disproportionately from Catholic immigrant stock. If my fellow WASPs had remained in charge as in the I930’s, we would probably never have stopped losing.
A tradition especially needs newcomers to stir things up when it is so decayed that the challenge is not to conserve but to restore. The works of immigrant scholars such as Eric Voegelin or Leo Strauss may be flawed, but our universities would be even more impoverished without them. Voegelin and Strauss, of course, are far removed from the streets of Spanish Harlem. Visits to such places make me wonder whether their residents will ever be “citizens” in any sense recognizable to James Madison. But I recall that my ancestors had similar worries about another swarm of Latin newcomers: the Italians.
The arguments against Hispanic immigration today seemed just as plausible against Italians around 1900. Most Italian-Americans came not from the region of Dante but from the backward, anti-republican south. They were more likely than any other immigrants of that era to stay here only temporarily: in some years as many as seven returned to Italy for every ten who arrived in America. They hated formal education, and did their best to avoid not only our secular public schools but our Irish-controlled Catholic schools. Italian-Americans scored as low on IQ tests then as blacks do today. Their average family income was even lower than the blacks’—at the height of Jim Crow. Many of our grandparents thought that they must be innately inferior. Irish-American priests were known to call them “dagoes” in public; one said that “Italians are not a sensitive people like our own.”
But these “inferior” newcomers were to move into the mainstream with dizzying speed, partly because they concentrated on work, not politics. They often provided valuable services as strikebreakers. Doubts about their national loyalties proved groundless; in 1943 Italian-American soldiers enthusiastically invaded their ancestral homeland. By the 1960’s, Italian-Americans had larger family incomes than WASPs or German-Americans.
Once they did get involved in politics, Italian-Americans resisted welfare-state bribery and ethnic-bloc voting. For decades. Republican politics in parts of New York and Connecticut has largely been a contest between liberal WASPs and conservative Italians. In 1984 Geraldine Ferraro was rejected not only by New Yorkers, by Italians, by Catholics, and by women—but even by New York Italian Catholic women.
More important than politics, of course, is music. Deep- South WASPs have given us rock, the blacks’ revenge for slavery. Italian-Americans have given us Caruso and Toscanini.
Like the Italians, today’s Hispanic immigrants are selective about which features of modern American culture to absorb. A surprisingly large number of them manage to send their children to private schools, rejecting both the antireligious conformism and the linguistic separatism of the public schools. Bilingual education is almost entirely a public-school phenomenon—not a response to marketplace demand, but to court rulings and regulations written by our decadent native establishment. Under a voucher system it would vanish.
Today’s boisterous Hispanic adventurers remind me of the 18th-century Scots-Irish immigrants who bypassed the WASP tidewater for the frontier. The tax revolts and anti-euthanasia protests of the 21st century will need them.
Daniel A. Stein, Executive Director, Federation for American Immigration Reform
There are very few universal truths in life, but one of them is “There is nothing so permanent as a temporary change.”
New York City, for example, instituted its rent control policies to avoid placing undo hardships on the families of our boys who were off fighting World War II. Those same laws are still on the books in 1990, and thousands of New Yorkers are still paying the same rent they were paying in 1940.
After the brutal crackdown against the Solidarity freedom movement in Poland in 1981, the United States granted Extended Voluntary Departure (EVD) to thousands of Poles in this country—”just until conditions improved in that country.” Solidarity now runs Poland, democracy is on the march in Eastern Europe, and the Poles we allowed to stay “just until things improved” are staying in droves. Nor will they be asked to return home. The people we permitted to live here temporarily have now established roots in their communities, we are told, and it would be unfair to ask them to leave.
For the past six years a similar bill has been floating around Congress to grant EVD to more than one million Salvadorans and Nicaraguans who are illegally in the United States—of course, “just until things improve down there.” The most recent incarnation of the bill passed the House last fall and is due to be voted on in the Senate this spring.
Despite the fact that things have already improved in those countries, the bill’s sponsors. Congressman Joe Moakley (D-MA) and Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) are still pushing this piece of legislation as hard as ever. Last year’s democratic elections in El Salvador and the dramatic results of the February 25 elections in Nicaragua haven’t convinced the bill’s supporters that EVD is a bad idea whose time has passed. Reality has simply sent them scurrying for new and creative reasons for not enforcing laws against illegal immigration.
Whereas just a few months ago EVD was being sold as a humanitarian insurance policy for people who lived in countries with repressive governments or civil war, we are now being told that more than a million illegal aliens should be allowed to remain here for economic reasons. That, of course, is precisely why the overwhelming majority of Salvadorans and Nicaraguans came here in the first place. It is the reason virtually every illegal alien comes to the United States.
U.S. refugee law is very specific about what constitutes a legitimate refugee: a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, ethnicity, or political belief The law is very clear that poverty alone is not sufficient reason for coming here, or being permitted to remain, either temporarily or permanently.
The proponents of EVD now claim that these illegal aliens should be allowed to remain “temporarily” because sending them back at this time would cause economic hardship not just for the aliens, but for their countries as well. It is a strange reversal of roles: the same people who for years have been insisting that Salvadorans and Nicaraguans were legitimate political refugees, not economic migrants, are now asking that they be allowed to stay in the United States for economic reasons. It’s a safe bet that if and when there is some economic improvement in those countries, these same advocates will argue that we can’t ask these “temporary” residents to leave because they have now established roots in this country.
As the economic and military superpower of this hemisphere, the United States has an important role to play in helping these emerging democracies succeed. However, we cannot absorb Latin America’s excess population. As the proponents of EVD now admit, the forces driving Latin Americans to the United States are economic, not political. These problems are not limited to El Salvador and Nicaragua— they are endemic to the entire region. To accommodate their exploding populations, the nations to our south will have to create 52 million new jobs over the next thirty years, and do it from an economic base one-fifth that of the United States.
Granting EVD to Salvadorans and Nicaraguans on the basis of economic hardship would be an extremely dangerous precedent given the economic and demographic projections for the Third World. Calling such a measure “temporary” stretches cynicism even beyond normal congressional standards. If we grant these people “temporary” legal status, we can count on them going home around the same time New Yorkers with rent-controlled apartments start paying fair-market rents.
Donald Devine, President, Donald Devine Company, Management Consultants
The argument against mass immigration is that the admission of non-Anglo entrants into the United States will eventually undermine its culture. The fact that this argument makes a good deal of intuitive sense means that it cannot be dismissed by a simple appeal to emotion. I must admit my first reaction was that this Irishman would not be here today if the argument’s implications were enforced earlier in history; but, clearly, that is not a sufficient response.
The more scientific way is to test the assumption of the argument: what has the admission of non-Anglos done to the culture? Almost two decades ago, I wrote a book—The Political Culture of the United States—that investigated the viability of that culture. Both the more impressionistic evidence and the empirical data yielded the conclusion that the culture has been maintained relatively intact over time and that mass immigration has not undermined the value consensus originally developed from English (not “British,” a relatively recent artifice) roots.
Culture was defined as the determining set of beliefs and institutions for a nation, and the American core values were identified as: national identity/patriotism, trust in neighbor, love of family, liberty, moral equality before the law, property, achievement, belief in God, religion, altruism, parliamentary rule, and decentralized politics—all basically derived from English culture during the colonial period. To these, the Founders only had to add federalism, a formal separation of powers and democratic elections.
Political Culture analyzed all public opinion polls taken between the birth of polling in 1935 and 1970 and concluded that Americans, across all population subgroupings, had supported the values of the culture throughout this period. Using earlier, less empirical sources back to Tocqueville led to the same conclusion. The poll data were retested (somewhat less rigorously) in 1976, 1982, and 1990 with similar results.
Clearly, there are many problems in measuring support for culture from polls. Yet the fact that Americans from many different backgrounds give at least verbal approval to these values over this long period of time demonstrates some continuing level of cultural support. To be sure, there are some differences among groups in support for these values, but the fact that, generally, all major groups give wide approval to them all gives even stronger confirmation.
Some values did register lower levels of support over time. The ideal number of children in the home dropped, and the acceptability of divorce increased. But even here, the ideal median has gone down from three children to two, and the divorce rate has stabilized since 1980. Plus, the decline itself has not come primarily from among immigrants—indeed, quite the reverse.
While there are lower levels of support from ethnic groups on some values, these same groups tend to have higher support for some of the other values in our culture. For example, African-Americans give significantly lower levels of support for property and (some of the) family values, but give higher support to religion. Hispanics register lower in support for liberty, but much higher in support of the family. Among those competing values it is difficult to say which are the more important. F.A. Hayek, for example, gives roughly equal status to the need in a free society for a religious moral code, strong families, and support for property.
Interestingly, when the relatively lower support for certain values by some ethnic groups is compared to levels in other nations—as measured by a National Opinion Research Center 1987 poll of seven nations—American minority groups are much more supportive of even private property than the center of Anglo culture itself. Great Britain, to say nothing about Ireland and most of the other nations.
The available data simply do not give reason for concern about declining American values as a result of mass immigration. Yes, there should be concern about the decline of the family, and perhaps about a weaker commitment to some of the other values mentioned above, but the decline seems more related to wider social problems—such as a welfare policy that undermines the family, and schools that do not teach values—rather than to problems resulting from immigration.
A good argument can be made for the proposition that immigrants are more supportive of traditional American values than most groups in the population, including especially the cultural and political elite. There is no evidence for concern about Hispanic immigration. The fact that Latin American countries do not work is much more plausibly the result of their institutions than their values. It may be miraculous that any immigrant group supports American values, given the virtual onslaught against them by the media, but in fact they do. How long they will continue to do so without a better defense of the culture by its supporters is a good question.
All the data suggest that culture is resistant to change. A system of belief like ours, with a strong element of cross-culturally attractive values, is probably even more impervious to change. Obviously, there is some limit to a culture’s ability to absorb new immigrants, and some numerical limits each year would be prudent. Yet the present limit could probably be doubled before we would approach that saturation point.
If American culture has forced us Irish to admire English values and to support political institutions derived from them—we who have been at war with the English for millennia—why should one despair of others being absorbed by that culture? We Irish, like other Americans, support this culture—yes, because it is ours, but primarily because it is fair, right, and it works. Just do not remind us too often that its origins are English, and we all just may be able to mount the defense of the culture so necessary to a future of peace and freedom.
Richard D. Lamm, Former governor of Colorado Director of The Center for Public Policy and Contemporary Issues, University of Denver
America, I suggest, stands at a crossroads on the immigration question. We can either continue to bring into America a mass of low-skilled immigrants or we can reach down to train and employ our own poor. But we cannot do both, and shall have to decide.
I do not think it is even a close question. The underclass in America is a growing, metastasizing cancer. We are experiencing an epidemic of teenage pregnancy, joblessness, drug use, crime—we all know the litany. Our urban streets have become battlefields, our ghettos breeding grounds of discontent. This is a nation-threatening problem, and it will either be solved or it will get much worse.
It is my experience that it will not be solved without a massive effort on the part of America to reach down and train and employ our own poor. It will not be easy. Many of our poor are very dysfunctional and will need lots of help. But they are our fellow citizens and our destinies are intertwined. If we don’t solve this problem, and solve it soon, there will hardly be a livable city in our nation. To say that a large number of frustrated, disaffected, untrained, unemployed, and increasingly violent citizens can be ignored is like saying “your end of the boat is sinking.”
America presently can too easily get its labor force from legal and illegal immigrants. This is not an irrational act: immigrants are hard workers and often work for low wages and no benefits. Illegal immigrants will come to America and live in appalling conditions, accept payment in cash, do without any benefits and, if they complain, an employer can turn them in to the Immigration Service. It is a functional source of labor to many Americans.
But it is too often dysfunctional to America. What America does not need in the 1990’s is ten million unskilled immigrants to move in and take our low-skill jobs. America should turn from the Cold War to a domestic crusade to solve our problem of the dysfunctional poor. We must start our own poor up the ladder of success, and thus a tight labor market is needed. A tight labor market is the best friend to the poor because it forces society to train and employ its own unemployed. Labor projections show a decline in the number of low-skill and blue-collar jobs that have started other generations on the road to success. Whenever these jobs are available, they should be for our own unemployed.
Our nation does not lack people to fill our jobs: we lack trained and hardworking people. I don’t mean to minimize the effort that American society and particularly American business will have to make to rely more on our own poor. It is both frustrating and costly to train and employ our own unskilled labor. A myriad of problems will be encountered. But it can be done. Virtually every one of our economic competitors runs their economy without immigrants. They solve their labor needs domestically and run economies that recently have been performing better than our own.
What can be done? Plenty.
First, we can start to pick immigrants for their skills. I don’t suggest we stop immigration. Instead, we should pick our immigrants not for what we can do for them, but for what they can do for us. Every other immigrant-accepting nation has a point system that emphasizes the skills of immigrants.
Second, we must change the laudable but unrealistic national attitude that we can be the home of last resort to all the world’s poor. We can’t. We must choose among many worthy people and, as long as we can’t accept everyone, why not accept the highest skilled?
Third, we can vigorously enforce employer sanctions and stop illegal immigration.
Most importantly, we can turn our national resolve to training, educating, and employing our own poor. There should not be a child in America needing Head Start for whom it is not available. We should put our best and most motivating teachers into our poorest schools, even if we have to double their salaries. We must train and retrain—but most important we must reserve our own jobs for our own poor.