Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Has The Melting Pot Melted Away?

The Boston Marathon attack should cause us all to take a step back and consider what lessons can be learned and applied to immigration reform.

Let me say at the outset that I have long been an advocate for sensible immigration reform.  The current system is outdated and ill-suited for the 21st century workplace.  We are a country that was founded and prospered over the years by the infusion of immigrants.  Almost everyone in this country today can trace their roots to an immigrant who came to this country seeking economic opportunity and personal freedom.

Our forebearers left family and friends behind for the opportunity to come to America.  They left everything they had in their homeland for a new and better life in the United States of America. 

Photo Credit: Life Magazine

For most of our history when someone left their home country they really left it.  Those immigrating to America faced an arduous ship passage.  They could communicate with friends and family only by letter once they got here.  It was difficult to get news about what was happening in their home country. There was little chance that they would be able to go back. As recently as twenty years ago, long distance international phone calls were expensive and limited.  Immigrants really did not have much choice other than to assimilate into American society.  It simply was not an option to stay connected to your former country.

We now have email, the internet, inexpensive telecommunications and Skype to communicate.  It is easy to stay connected to family and friends.  News from home is easy to access and it is easy to stay connected. Ethnic groups and clubs and the surge in immigrants (2010 data indicates there are 40 million foreign born people in the United States) have put an entirely new perspective on what immigration means.

When someone immigrated to the United States in the past they were literally 'all in".  They simply had no other choice.  They were coming to America to be Americans.  It was not just the economic opportunity but it was everything else as well.  They did not pick and choose.  They bought the whole loaf.

Can the same be said today?  I think it is an important question.  Are the people coming to America today really coming here to be part of the great "melting pot" that has defined us in the past?  Are they really interested in adopting and assimilating into American culture, tradition, values and our language?  Or are they here just for the economic advantages?

This question seems particularly relevant when considered with some of the information coming out about the Boston Marathon bombers.  You would think both of these young men who be eternally grateful for the opportunity to be allowed to immigrate to this country from their war-torn Chechnya homeland.  Why did they have such hatred?  After ten years in this country how could Tamerlan Tsarnaev say, " I don't have a single American friend.  I don't understand them."?

John O'Sullivan of NRO sees potential parallels in this case with those of the four young Muslim Yorkshiremen who killed more than 50 people in the London subway bombings in 2005.

Local people were amazed that these kids, three of them the sons of successful immigrants and local businessmen, who played cricket and soccer and drank adolescent quantities of beer, should have joined together in a pact to murder innocent people they had never met.

In that case — and I suspect we shall find also in the case of the marathon bombers — the explanation was (or included the fact) that they had been assimilated into a nullity. For almost the entire youth of the 7/7 bombers, the British had acted as if they were ashamed of their national identity and history. So young men, with the usual propensity of young men to want to identify with patriotic and idealistic causes, had been told that there was nothing admirable or heroic about being British. It was a sort of swindle, and one, moreover, that had been perpretated especially upon people of their ethnic backgrounds. They had therefore looked around for a heroic cause they could identify with. The radical Islamists provided them with the cause of radical Islamism — and they embarked on the relatively short road to mass murder.

Just think for a minute about what types of things these two young men heard while living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Do you think they were taught about American exceptionalism?  How often did they hear that the United States of America was the last great place for hope in the world?  Did they ever hear it in Cambridge, Massachusetts?

Why does it matter? 

The Hudson Institute recently published a report by John Fonte and Althea Nagia in which they argue that "America's Patriotic Assimilation System Is Broken".

They found that a large "patriotic gap" exists between native-born citizens and immigrant citizens on a number of issues indicating assimilation and attachment to the United States.  Bear in mind, this is data comparing native-born and naturalized citizens.  You can only imagine what the gap would be on resident aliens and others who may be living and working in this country who are not citizens.

By 21 percentage points (65% to 44%), native-born citizens are more likely than naturalized immigrants to view America as “better” than other countries as opposed, to“no better, no worse.”

By about 30 points (85% to 54%), the native-born are more likely to consider themselves American citizens rather than “citizens of the world.”

By 30 points (67% to 37%), the native-born are more likely to believe that the U.S. Constitution is a higher legal authority for Americans than international law.

By roughly 31 points (81% to 50%), the native-born are more likely than immigrant citizens to believe that schools should focus on American citizenship rather than
ethnic pride
By 23 percentage points (82% to 59%), the native-born are more likely to believe that itis very important for the future of the American political system that all citizens understand English.

This study makes you wonder about whether the "melting pot" is melting away. It also should send up huge cautionary flags on what has to be done to close this huge "patriotic gap" among natural born and naturalized citizens.

In the final analysis, there can be no comprehensive immigration reform without comprehensive assimilation reform.

We cannot determine immigration policy unless we seriously examine what our assimilation policy should be.

Why is there a patriotic gap between native-born and naturalized citizens? Undoubtedly there are many different reasons. One in particular, however, strikes us as responsible, at least partially, for this gap. Since the 1970s American elites have altered our “de-facto assimilation policy” from Americanization (or patriotic integration) to a multiculturalism that emphasizes ethnic group consciousness at the expense of American common culture.

In short, we have sent immigrants the wrong message on assimilation. It is our fault, not theirs that this gap exists.

I have not yet read the Senate Immigration Bill that the so-called "Gang of Eight" has drafted but I would hope that if we are going to open up new pathways to working and gaining citizenship in this country that we consider these realities. First, many people who come here are not "all in" simply because the world has changed. Second, the message of multiculturalism has pushed what it means to be an American to the back burner. We invite trouble when we ignore these realities. When will we wake up?

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