John Fonte, Ph.D.
You are everywhere these days promoting the McCain-Kennedy "slow motion" amnesty plan for illegal immigrants. I commend your energy and spirited advocacy, while strongly disagreeing with your recommendations and the "tempered" multicultural ideology behind them.
My principal objection is that you over-emphasize economics and deal only superficially with America's twin national interests in border security and patriotic assimilation. Further, the economic points that you raise are themselves open to question.
You and I agree that the United States has been more successful in assimilating immigrants than any other country in the history of the world. The reason for that success, however, is that from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt, Americans have insisted upon the "Americanization" or patriotic assimilation of immigrants. Today, America's elites no longer promote serious assimilation.
Instead, our de-facto policy is mass, low-skilled immigration combined with weak border security and anti-assimilation practices (ethnic group preferences for newcomers, bilingualism, multiculturalism and tolerance of dual citizenship). Your policy recommendations—reflected both in McCain-Kennedy style legislation and your book, Reinventing the Melting Pot—do not challenge these anti-assimilation practices.
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Let us start with McCain-Kennedy. Capitol Hill sources claim that the legislation was written mostly by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, a predominantly liberal group that has fought every serious attempt at border enforcement. No wonder the bill insists that local police not be given "additional authority" to enforce immigration laws. According to Senator Cornyn (R-TX), McCain-Kennedy offers "more studies rather than real money." We don't need more studies; we need more security personnel, both on the border and in interior enforcement, particularly when thousands of "OTMs" (other than Mexicans), many from the Middle East, have continued illegally crossing the Rio Grande even since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Yet border security is possible. Apparently even a small group of mostly senior citizens in deck chairs (Minutemen) inspired the re-deployment of Mexican army units, which resulted in a big drop in illegal crossings in the sector where the deck chairs were located. Imagine what serious, high-tech, professional enforcement could do.
How do we deal with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country? The choice is not, as many would have you believe, between crafting some sort of amnesty plan or instantly deporting ten million people. No one is suggesting mass deportation. Instead, the reliable and consistent enforcement of existing laws should lead to the steady downsizing of the illegal immigrant population over several years. When our laws are enforced word gets out among illegal immigrants and many leave. Indeed, the New York Times reported the virtual disappearance of a Pakistani neighborhood in that city after a crackdown on illegal immigrants (most of whom apparently fled to Canada).
It is undeniable that McCain-Kennedy and other proposals will lead to a massive increase in unskilled immigration. Most economists argue that low skilled workers add little to a nation's GDP. True, some businesses are helped by the availability of cheap labor. But this is really a form of "corporate welfare." The rest of us subsidize these businesses through higher taxes needed to pay for the vastly increased health and education costs incurred by the illegal population.
As my favorite economist, Thomas Sowell, notes, "Virtually every job in the country is work that Americans will not do, if the pay is below a certain level." The cheap labor provided by illegal immigrants, combined with our welfare state, distorts the free market by depressing wages and discouraging technological innovation, modernization and mechanization. Without access to the abundance of cheap labor available to American agribusiness, even statist "Old Europe" has done a better job of mechanization than certain sectors of American agriculture.
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Let us now turn to your book, Reinventing the Melting Pot. I am surprised that you are considered a "conservative," because your essays in the book are more liberal than conservative. You believe 1960s multiculturalism is mostly positive ("it may have clarified and improved" American identity). You call for a "tempered multiculturalism"—Commentary's reviewer characterized your approach as "soft assimilation." But the multicultural challenge of the Sixties was a direct assault on the core American values of patriotism and individual citizenship, carried out in the name of ethnic group identity and ethnic group rights.
An anecdote from your book is instructive. The reader is introduced to "Eddie Liu," who moved to the United States at age two when his professional parents immigrated from Taiwan. Eddie is a product of multicultural education and identity politics. He wants to "make it" economically but is ambivalent about America. One of our most important tasks, you tell us, is to "find ways to talk about becoming American" that will be "meaningful" for "a young man like Eddie Liu." True enough.
But then, while calling for this new American narrative, you state it "must accommodate the realities of the world we live in" —realities among which you include accommodation to multiculturalism and identity politics. Having accepted multiculturalism (albeit tempered) you write: "A young man like Eddie doesn't have to choose whether he is Asian or American, the very idea is an abomination."
In the same vein you attack what you describe as the "coercive" assimilation policies of the 1920s and 1950s. It is significant, however, that those very policies led to a thoroughly Americanized "greatest generation" in World War II. That meant, for example, that some of my Italian-American relatives fought against Italian soldiers in North Africa and Sicily. It is not clear where Eddie Liu would stand in a war in which Americans fought Chinese (not an implausible scenario), but it is clear that your policy prescriptions ("Eddie Liu doesn't have to choose") are, to put it mildly, inadequate to infuse national loyalty in newcomers.
To be sure, you state immigrants must accept the "rules of the game," which you define as a "minimalist" core of the immigrant bargain—support for democracy and a "largely political identity" that "comes with few if any cultural corollaries."
Significantly, however, you do not oppose dual allegiance for immigrants, a stance that surely undermines even the "minimalist rules of the game" that you advocate. After all, the Oath of Allegiance to the United States—in which new citizens "renounce" all "allegiance" to their birth countries—and the moral rejection of dual citizenship is at the heart of our successful "nation of immigrants" ethic. We are, to put it more accurately, a nation of assimilated immigrants: the transfer of allegiance from the old country to the United States that occurs when taking the oath is central to who we are.
This is central to American identity because unlike many other nations, America does not base citizenship on race, religion or ethnicity. Instead, citizenship is based on political loyalty to our constitutional democracy. If we accept the principle that it is legitimate for foreign-born citizens (and their American-born children) to maintain political allegiance to the foreign states from which they came, we have accepted an ethnic conception of citizenship that mocks our core values. In the War of 1812 we refused to accept the ethnicity-based concept of citizenship implicit in "once an Englishman always an Englishman." Today we should refuse to accept the ethnicity-based concept of "once a Mexican always a Mexican," or once a Pakistani always a Pakistani, or any other ethnic designation upon which dual citizenship is based.
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Among other flaws McCain-Kennedy exacerbates the dual citizenship problem. If the bill becomes law, 10 to 12 million new citizens will also be able to retain Mexican, Central American or other foreign citizenship. Never has there been such a potential challenge to the integrity of citizenship naturalization. After all, Mexico shares a contiguous border and sends us our largest number of immigrants. Moreover the Mexican government, through its vigorous promotion of dual allegiance, is actively working to retain the loyalty of its former citizens and even gain the loyalty of their American-born children.
At the same time McCain and Kennedy—and you and your allies—remain mute before an outspoken Mexican government that directly challenges our ability to patriotically assimilate our new citizens. Naturalized citizens of Mexican descent and their U.S. born children are not, as the Mexican government insists, "Mexicans living abroad," anymore than my parents, brother, and myself are "Italians living abroad" or this journal's editor, Ken Masugi, and his relatives are "Japanese living abroad." American citizens of Mexican descent are Americans, pure and simple. If you and other McCain-Kennedy supporters are serious about the integrity of American citizenship, you ought to tell President Fox and his government exactly that, while joining others who insist upon cracking down on the growing phenomenon of dual allegiances.