The Washington Post, December 19, 2007
Amy Chua's recent Outlook article on immigration contains more common sense than one might expect from a Yale professor. Her calls for limiting family chain migration, encouraging assimilation and simply enforcing the law are long overdue. Her concern that we not erode the "unifying identity" that has made our country so successful is an urgent matter that too much of America's elite ignores or dismisses.
But the two "mistakes" she claims are made by immigration restrictionists are evidence that she misses the broader context of the immigration debate. She says that the "scapegoating vitriol" of immigration critics will drive immigrants away from the American mainstream, and that people like Harvard professor Samuel Huntington and Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly "unwittingly imperil" our "ethnically and religiously neutral national identity, uniting individuals of all backgrounds."
There is a grain of truth here. Immigrants, even illegal aliens, are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect and humanity. This points to the vital distinction between immigration policy and immigrant policy. Immigration policy concerns how many we let in, and who, and how we enforce the law. It is in serious need of adjustment. Immigrant policy concerns how we treat those foreigners we lawfully admit to live among us and eventually to join us as Americans. In this respect, Americans remain the least xenophobic people on the planet, far more welcoming of newcomers than any of the countries from which our immigrants arrive.
But Chua's useful note of caution is almost lost in a mountain of nonsense. First, to imply that Huntington, this nation's preeminent social scientist, is capable of "scapegoating vitriol" is absurd. In his book, "Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity" Huntington argues not that only WASPs can be Americans. He simply says that our institutions and culture were permanently shaped by British low-church Protestantism -- and that diluting that inheritance would undermine much of what has made America such a successful multi-ethnic society.
In fact, the "vitriol" is mainly on the other side of the immigration debate. This Post editorial, for example, scoured the thesaurus for terms to hurl at immigration critics: "xenophobes," "vigilantism," "cruel," "toxic," "intensifying nativist zeal," "venomous," "pernicious," "ferocity of the demagogues." This kind of outlandish rhetoric is hardly unusual among supporters of amnesty and high immigration and, to paraphrase Chua, will drive the U.S. mainstream farther from the elites that spew it. This is why the immigration bill failed in the Senate this summer: The public has little confidence that government, business, the media and other elements of the elite feel any sense of solidarity with their fellow citizens or are even remotely interested in preserving American sovereignty.
The other restrictionist "mistake" Chua points to is neglecting "the indispensable role that immigrants have played in building American wealth and power." The present-day examples she cites have nothing to do with "a fierce global competition to attract the world's best high-tech scientists and engineers." Intel cofounder Andy Grove, for instance, is a manager, not a technician, and Google cofounder Sergey Brin came here as a child as part of a refugee family. The push by high-tech firms to import more talent from abroad is simply a 21st century version of the eternal search for cheap labor.
And Chua's examples from the past are just that. Although today's immigrants are very similar to those of a century ago, we are a completely changed society. As I argue in my forthcoming book, "The New Case Against Immigration," immigration is simply incompatible with modern society. Our economy places a much higher premium than ever before on education. The United States already spends too much on an extensive welfare state. And advances in communications and transportation make immigration, even of the educated, deeply problematic for assimilation and security and sovereignty. In other words, the immigrants are the same, but we are different.
These are hardly quibbles. But it would be churlish to end on them. Our immigration policy is so dysfunctional that any moves in the right direction should be applauded. And Chua's suggestions for change would represent huge moves in the right direction. If her essay represents a shift in the center of gravity of this debate, then it is an encouraging sign indeed.
Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.