WASHINGTON — Immigration to American shores is in the newspapers and on television every day now, and many Americans doubtless believe they know what this bedeviling problem is really about. They would feel secure, for instance, in endorsing these common beliefs about the mass movements of people across U.S. borders:
– “America is a nation of immigrants.”
– “It doesn’t matter where the new immigrants come from. They will all quickly adopt American traditions, principles and history.”
Well, allow me, please, to take on these supposed truths about immigrants — to America and to prosperous countries around the globe — and to supplant them with what I have personally observed in years spent traveling around the world as a foreign correspondent.
– First, to me, America is not essentially a nation of immigrants. Yes, three of my four grandparents did come to America as immigrants, and one side was here sometime soon after the Mayflower. This is true of probably a majority of Americans today. Even the American Indians, our one truly native people, sometime back in history crossed the Bering Strait from their original homeland in Central Asia.
America, instead, is a nation of citizens. Being an immigrant was the first, unfinished state of those men and women who would come here, but citizenship was the desired, finished status of those who entered legally and conscientiously. No matter how many try to say that illegal aliens have some fuzzy, incoherent “right” to come here without benefit of legality, the argument just doesn’t wash.
While those who respect our nation are willing to wait in line to come here legally, there is simply no rational excuse for those who would essentially show their contempt for our law by making their first act in this nation be one of deliberately and repeatedly flouting that law.
– As to adopting American traditions, customs and history, it CAN happen that immigrants risk their lives to come here because they treasure American values, but it doesn’t usually happen.
Surely, great musicians, thinkers and writers have struggled to come to America, the better to exercise their talents. But the greatest number of immigrants come from poor countries, and they come here either for purely economic reasons or to escape unspeakable violence in their homelands.
Mexican-Americans still root for Mexico at sports events in California, and until recently roughly 50 percent of Mexican students here have not graduated from high school. English is far from being the primary language of Latin Americans who come to the United States.
The situation with Muslim-Americans is far more threatening and dangerous. One hardly needs to repeat the horrors of terrorism visited upon Boston or New York by Islamists who came to America and repaid its hospitality only by attempting to terrorize its citizens at home and destroy its soldiers and interests abroad.
Here, unfortunately, is where questions of racism and multiculturalism enter the picture.
Many of the arguments supporting any kind of immigration, employing reasons ranging from charity to economics, insist that those who are against illegal immigration are racist, since many of the questions of “Who belongs?” involve skin color and the belief that all peoples will embrace the same principles if only given the chance.
But the fact is that all groups do not embrace those same values. American history has been filled with examples of ethnic groups persisting in attempting to re-establish their former identities here. The Germans tried to impose the German language in schools and through the pro-Hitler Bund in the ’20s and ’30s; Latinos are now establishing Latino power groups instead of assimilating; and, of course, radical Islamists remain today the major outside threat to the nation.
The fact that any mention of differentiation among national, ethnic or racial groups opens one to the worst character slurs is unfortunate, indeed, because throughout history, different groups have at times held superior positions while others, who would later become superior, held minor positions. Think of the early German and Viking tribes, dancing around fires and destroying real civilizations such as the Romans. Darker-skinned Egyptians and Nubians were once the dominant civilizations and rulers of the world, possessing great buildings, knowledge and science that we wonder at today.
Yet it remains somehow wrong that we see peoples in terms of their periods of rise and fall, rather than at any one moment. And this is surely one of those slippery but real truths that we must be more honest about as we discuss and act on immigration to America in our time.
(Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer(at)juno.com.)
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HARD TRUTHS MUST PREVAIL IN IMMIGRATION POLICY
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