The controversy over immigration, exacerbated and perhaps clarified by September 11, has typically overlooked the political purpose of immigration: to supply citizens who will cherish and uphold the American Founding principles of equality and liberty, of government by consent and the rule of law.
Founding a new nation and then perpetuating it are the two greatest challenges of statesmen. Part of that task of perpetuation—and Abraham Lincoln reminded us that it can be a more difficult task than founding—is creating new citizens. In the United States this has involved turning immigrants into citizens. Thus, Jefferson, whose Declaration of Independence did more than any other document to make America a nation of immigrants, warned against accepting immigrants who would bring with them anti-republican principles from the Old World. This was in keeping with the need to protect the unique achievement of the American Founding.
But is American constitutional government any more secure now than it was at the time of the founding? A bizarre understanding of civil liberties that makes the pledge of allegiance to the flag a violation of the Constitution, the deterioration of the separation of powers, the rise of bureaucracy both nationally and locally, the historical illiteracy of younger Americans, and much more all make us wonder. Immigration is another policy that arouses such passions by raising fundamental questions about American identity.
Americans have pride in being from "the old country" and also in being "descended from someone on the Mayflower." For example, the 1940 movie Knute Rockne, All American should be viewed not merely for Ronald Reagan's role, but for its tale of immigrants: coach Rockne himself and the Irish of Notre Dame University. We hear two foreign languages in the film—a few words of Norwegian and the Latin of the Old Mass. Rockne was not just an All-American—that is, a star player—but he was a pure American, albeit an immigrant. And that would be the pattern for future Americans, drawn from other ethnic groups.
Contrast this old movie with a new one—Bladerunner (1982), where the language, food, and people come from all over the world. It is almost impossible to tell who is human and who is artificial. In such a world, it might seem laughable to raise the question of who is an American. But in fact the challenge to the American Founding principle that all men are created equal makes us confront the question not only of human identity but of American identity.
Some maintain that an openness to immigration outside Europe is a natural result of American ideals. They point to economic benefits of immigration, lowering the costs of labor. Imitating earlier patterns, such immigrants from Latin American or Asia would become as integrated into society as Irish, Italians, or eastern Europeans. But others maintain that the cultural differences of more recent immigration (since the 1965 liberalization), and adverse economic effects on lower-income Americans, tell against the new policy. Then follow the rancorous charges of racism, elitism, xenophobia, religious bigotry, exploitation, and so forth. Finally, September 11 has raised dramatically the question of immigration and national security.
To elevate this debate, the Claremont Institute, with the generous support of the Salvatori Center of Claremont McKenna College and Chapman University Law School, is sponsoring a three-day conference, "American Citizenship in the Age of Multicultural Immigration," March 20-22. It will be held at Chapman University Law School in Orange, California. We anticipate robust and insightful discussions of fundamental issues involving a variety of distinguished scholars, authors, and local government officials.
Evening speakers are Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal and Joel Kotkin of Pepperdine University and the Milken Institute. Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh, former Civil Rights Commission Chairman William B. Allen, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovitch, and Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby will also participate. With speakers such as Stephen Schwartz, Claremont Review editor Charles Kesler, Thomas G. West, National Review's John Miller, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, John Eastman, Eloise Anderson, Edward Erler, Jan Ting, and Peter Skerry, the discussion promises to be an important event, not just in southern California but nationally. A book will be produced from the papers.
The conference is free and open to the public. Meals will be provided at cost. For more information contact Adam Fuller at email@example.com, or Melanie Marlowe at (909) 621-6825, at the Claremont Institute.