On Immigration and Assimilation

By Dan Cadman on January 5, 2016

Audrey Singer has written a piece for Fortune magazine titled "What Everyone Is Missing About the Immigration Debate". It is, on the whole, a paean to unbridled immigration to the country and, at least in my view, doesn't live up to its title.

She quotes the president approvingly: "One generation passes, two generation passes (sic), and suddenly we don't remember where we came from. And we suggest that somehow there is 'us' and there is 'them,' not remembering we used to be 'them.'" She also cites a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report to support this generalized and generally unhelpful statement in subtly trying to pigeonhole thinkers on the issue into two categories — those progressive and enlightened enough to recognize that immigrant assimilation (she uses the word "integration") is inevitable vs. the troglodytes and fear mongers (my words, not hers, but the sense is clearly there) who oppose unrestricted immigration. As the NAS report puts it: "Certain obstacles — in particular, legal status and race — impede the integration process."

Here is my take:

First, Singer's article deliberately attempts to blur the line between legal and illegal immigration. This is unacceptable. Such distinctions aren't semantic niceties; they are the essence of a society of laws and the foundation for a nation that values its sovereignty.

Second, even as she and the NAS assert that the "obstacle" of lacking legal status impedes the assimilation process (thus implicitly suggesting that everyone should be made "legal" with a wave of the president's magic "executive action" wand so that they can integrate into society at large), others who advocate amnesty in any of its many forms have been going to great pains to tell us that the 11 or 12 million aliens living unlawfully in the United States are already "Americans in everything but name". So which is it? Assimilated in all but legal status, or outside the margins?

Third, if assimilation is, as she, the president, and the NAS suggest, a multi-generational effort, then it isn't "sudden" at all. This need for assimilative seasoning over the course of generations is, to my way of thinking, a strong argument in favor of a balanced immigration system that enforces its laws fairly and uniformly. The national community must have the time, space, and economic resources needed for this two-way process to be able to take hold successfully. Unbridled immigration makes it impossible to absorb individuals in a way that does anything but balkanize and ghettoize various populations coming to the country, and strains the social safety nets needed to stabilize these populations and permit them to bootstrap themselves into the mainstream.

As to the NAS's assertion that race is a stumbling block in the assimilation process: Is it in fact race, or something a bit more complex, such as a reflection of the economics, education, and skill sets of the arriving populations? A substantial portion of the individuals immigrating to the United States these days come from undeveloped or underdeveloped nations, are barely literate, and possess few identifiable work skills. In addition, many have arrived from war-torn countries whose own community fabric was torn asunder long ago — often due to religious, ethnic, or tribal differences, polarizing attitudes we can presume they carry with them to a great extent.

An excellent dissection of the NAS report was written by Dr. Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies in December, and can be found here. I encourage readers to take a moment to read Camarota's review; it's well worth the time.

But to get back to Singer: What it all comes down to is this — is it either appropriate or fair to receive immigrants in such vast numbers that we simply toss them into the "melting pot" like so many carrots or potatoes, to swim in the community stew for themselves? I think not. This is a recipe for disaster, not assimilation, as many of the second-generation Somali refugees in and around Minneapolis-St. Paul have proven to us by departing the comforts of "home" to go fight on behalf of Islamic State or al Shabaab, or any of the other toxic terrorist organizations fighting throughout the globe. Not to mention the horrors inflicted by disaffected and unassimilated youths here as well, in Boston and San Bernardino.