Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Immigration conflation

by Stephen Menendian, Research Associate for the Kirwan Institute

A few years ago I chided my European friends, who are used to lecturing me in holier-than-thou tones about American policies, for the anti-immigrant turn in their countries, particularly the surprising popularity of anti-immigrant demagogues like Jean-Marie Le Pen, Jorg Haider, and Pim Fortyn, and the subsequent rejection of the EU Constitution in those same countries. I was forced to eat crow when large scale demonstrations broke out in the US last spring, spurred by similar misgivings and apprehensions.

Immigration, as an issue, is really many issues. It's an economic issue, a cultural question, a security dilemma, and a legal question, among others – all of which are conflated into an incoherent whole. This conflation produces a debate that is astonishingly confused. Every night Lou Dobbs can be heard complaining about the need to “secure our borders.” Is he talking about national security? Primarily, he's talking about economics. The Lou Dobbs mantra is the decline of the middle class. He connects immigration with a declining middle class every evening on TV and in print, but he doesn't clearly explain what the connection is. Perhaps the rhetorical conflation is easier to swallow than a careful economic analysis.

Then there is the cultural side of the immigration debate, prominently displayed in the writings of Samuel Huntington, among others. The fear is that immigrants today - as distinguished from the past - will not assimilate. The assimilationist ideal is largely a post-hoc fabrication. America never represented a single cultural tradition. The original thirteen colonies were rival religious and cultural factions that arrived on these shores for very different reasons. The Puritans scorned the Quakers who despised the Calvinists, and so on. Contrary to the assumption that Americans largely reflect a single viewpoint or cultural tradition, the federalist structure of our system assumes a pluralism of viewpoint bound together through a common Constitution. Democracy is a system designed to negotiate that pluralism.

And the security side of the immigration debate? In our post-9/11 world, the idea is that porous borders make it possible for terrorists to enter the US. This is very different from the claim that illegal immigration will drive down standards of living or lead to a clash of cultures.

Then there is the legal side of the debate. From the very first Immigration Act in 1790, restricting immigration to “free white persons,” immigration has had a racial component. Today, it is critical to emphasize that immigration is not about Hispanics or Latinos. The immigration question is a much broader (and narrower) legal question about requirements for citizenship.

An honest and careful debate on immigration will strive to clarify the separate components of the immigration debate and help to build policies that address each in their own sphere without conflating them for rhetorical flourish.


  1. An honest debate on immigration is a wonderful goal. I would argue, however, that such a debate is impossible until the rule of law is established over our borders.

    What is the point of debating who, under what conditions, how many, if, or any other issue regarding immigration when we have no control?

    Race, ethnicity, language is irrelevant. We have given up control and THAT is suicidal.

  2. From the cultural perspective, I would argue that "assimilation" is inevitable and that whole discussion is pointless. As a matter of human nature, over a period of time people will assimilate to their environment. Anybody arguing "new immigrants" are not assimilating to American culture should spend some time with any group of young hispanics who are either second generation or who came with their parents to this country at a young age. Their conversations are in English, their way of dressing, acting and thinking are very much American. In fact, many times the daily struggle at hispanic homes is in getting young hispanics to learn and keep some of their parents cultural traits.

    It's sometimes risible to see some second and third generation hispanics speaking for the right of newer immigrants not to "assimilate" while they themselves couldn't make their arguments in Spanish if their lives depended on it.

    As far as the security aspect, we need to look into this issue from a realistic point of view. A lot of people are against any form of "regularization" of immigrants because there is NO guarantee that we will not be doing this all over again in 10 years. Borders are not under control and there is no way for employers to confirm that someone can legally work.

    Can there be a good solution to the immigration problem? I believe there is only but one solution and that involves the regularization of the undocumented already here. But any plan must be comprehensive and include provisions for stronger borders and MOST importantly, a secure, reliable national system where employers can verify whether a person is allowed to work in the US.

  3. The immigration in that things has very important for the students.Because he get education in different schools ans colleges.
    regards, saad from
    Bharathiar University