European Multiculturalism's Lessons for the U.S.: The Role of NGOs

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on February 16, 2011

Among the several lessons that British Prime Minister David Cameron's critique of multiculturalism provides for the United States are his observations on the role of non-governmental organizations in helping to either facilitate or compromise new immigrant integration into Britain's cultural and national community.

He said:

We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism – against people at home and abroad.

Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are certainly, in some cases, part of the problem.

We need to think much harder about who it's in the public interest to work with.

Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.

Cameron is referring, of course, to organizations concerned with representing Muslim interests in a country which those organizations feel is compromised by antipathy, and worse, toward Muslims and similarly marginalized minority groups. His major concern is with those groups that do not directly advocate extremism but who take government money "despite doing little to combat extremism."

There are no direct parallels in American society as yet, although there have certainly been several cases of "home-grown terrorists" and the Attorney General views this as a serious threat.

However, the parallel I want to draw here is to groups in the United States that receive government money to help new immigrants assimilate, but are either ambivalent or hostile to the ideal of helping them to do so.

There are now literally thousands, more likely tens of thousands, of religious, civic, legal, political, and ad hoc groups whose stated purpose is to help new immigrants. The City of New York lists 241 such groups in the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs alone. This would seem like a vast resource for helping new immigrants assimilate, and no doubt in many cases it is.

Yet, there are legitimate reasons to worry about such groups, and they arise from the intersection of advocacy and ideology. In a recent analysis of three blue ribbon immigration panels and their recommendations, I examined the 1986 IRCA requirement for learning English that was turned over for implementation to a number of immigrant advocacy groups (pp. 45-46). The result deserves to be kept in mind.

In short order, the requirement for completion of that legalization requirement went from demonstrated competence in the English language to mere attendance at classes. At first, a minimum of 60 hours completion of a proposed 100-hour program was required, but this was deemed "excessive" and "burdensome." INS officials finally settled on 40 course hours of a 60-hour program. In short, the full course of instruction had been reduced by 40 percent and the amount of actual attendance time necessary to "pass" that now much-downsized course was reduced by a third. Advocacy programs were interested in maximizing the number of immigrants in their charge who could get the course credit necessary for legalization.

Many organizations whose purpose is to assist new immigrants have strong views on the many aspects of immigration policy that have been debated in this country. And it turns out some of them have strong views about how assimilated new immigrants should become.

Next: "Immigrant Assimilation and NGOs: Mixed Messages"