Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Reflections on Wise and Suicidal Immigration

By Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media

Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.

Legal immigration has historically been classically liberal and a great boon for the United States.

Immigrants often bring in energy and fresh ideas.

In the past, newcomers from around the world were eager for a second start in the United States. They nearly all worked hard, reminding American-born citizens that that they can never rest on their laurels.

Immigrants honed American competition and helped to keep the nation productive.

Immigrants were typically hyper-patriotic. They reminded complacent Americans how lucky they were to be born in the U.S.

No one knew better how uninviting were the alternatives abroad than did those who had been forced to live under fascism, communism, totalitarianism, tribalism, or endemic poverty and corruption. Most immigrants believed that they always had been Americans in spirit, just unfortunately born in the wrong country.

Immigrants characteristically had rejected their native cultures and were eager to adopt a new American identity. So they were not foolish enough to question what had made America attractive to them in the first place: constitutional government, the rule of law, personal freedom, free-market capitalism, and an independent judiciary and press.

Instead, immigrants often enriched that immutable Western core with diverse contributions of food, music, literature, and art.

Through integration and intermarriage immigrants quickly became part of the American dream. The path from Italian to Italian-American to American usually was completed in two generations.

What then were the ingredients of past successful American immigration policy?

Four enlightened rules.

One, immigrants came legally. Breaking the law was a lousy way to start American residency. How can an immigrant continue to respect and follow his adopted country’s legal system when his first act as an American resident is to mock federal law?

Two, immigration was blind and diverse. It did not favor one particular group over another. The more diverse the immigrant blocs, the less likely they were to form lasting separate communities. There were, of course, mass influxes of immigrants in the past, but they were quite diverse: gobs of Germans, hordes of Irish, masses of Italians and Sicilians, huge influxes of Poles and Jews, lots of Japanese and Chinese, large arrivals of Mexicans. But note how diverse and varied were the immigrants’ places of origin and how destined they were to bump into each other upon arrival. Each group was wary of the other trying to use immigration as a crass tool to boost their own political fortunes by bringing in more kin than their rivals.

Three, immigrants usually arrived in manageable numbers; mass arrivals were usually periodic and episodic, not continuous and institutionalized. Only that way could the melting pot absorb newcomers and avoid the tribalism and factionalism that had always plagued so many prior failed multi-ethnic national experiments abroad. To avoid the fate of Austria-Hungary or Yugoslavia, immigrants—geographically, politically, culturally—by needs were soon intermixed and intermingled.

Four, both hosts and immigrants insisted on rapid Americanization. Immigrants learned English, followed all the laws of their host, and assumed America was good without having to be perfect. Otherwise they would have stayed home.

Unfortunately, 21st century immigration policy has forgotten these old rules and become illiberal and tribal. Is it any surprise that foolish immigration practices are proving as reactionary and destructive as wise ones were once enlightened and beneficial?

Immigration is now often in violation of U.S. law. There are somewhere over 11 illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. Breaking the law should be the last not the first act of a new immigrant.

Under political pressure, entire cities have declared themselves immune from federal immigration laws—apparently on the theory that immigrants’ children and those given amnesty will vote for their enablers. Well-connected ethnic elites will have more careerist opportunities if they can pose as self-appointed representatives of masses of the unassimilated and poor.

In recent years, a third of all Texas murders were committed by unlawful immigrants. There are nearly 300,000 aliens in the nation’s state and local prisons.

A staggering one-quarter of all federal inmates are now aliens. There are over 20,000 unlawful immigrants in California prisons alone.

Immigration is growing less diverse. Over half of all immigrants come from a single country, Mexico. Over 70% of all unlawful immigrants come from Central America or Mexico.

Such an absence of diversity shorts immigration aspirations from dozens of other countries. We reward the unskilled who illegally cross into the United States, and punish the doctor or architect who waits patiently for a legal invitation. The lack of variety among immigrants makes integration and assimilation more difficult.

The number of immigrants is at a near-record percentage of the American population. In absolute numbers, there are now nearly 50 million foreign-born residents—the largest in our history. Democrats are not shy in warning their conservative opponents that they have changed the political future of the country—convinced that their sponsorship of government largess and destruction of immigration law will create a permanently indebted ethnic bloc. Such hopes remind us that otherwise, progressives have no agenda that appeals to the majority of American citizens. Therefore, they must impede integration and assimilation in fears that a successful and empowered immigrant is likely not to remain beholden to Democratic pieties.

There were waves of 19th century immigration in the past. But what is different this time around is that the host America has largely given up on the multiracial melting pot for the multicultural salad bowl.

The result is that millions of new arrivals are not meeting enough with others outside their ethnic group. Assimilation, to the degree it is even seen as a positive, is delayed for generations. One in four American residents currently does not speak English at home–the former common tie that helped bind multiracial America. Careers are enhanced by accent marks and hyphenation. Ethnic identity is now essential not secondary to character.

Most immigrants still come to work. But the sheer size of the pool of new immigrants means that those who don’t seek jobs can pose staggering costs on the host. Currently about 30% of all immigrant-headed households are on some form of public assistance. That is not much of a problem when strapped middle-class taxpayers can be dubbed racists and xenophobes for opposing expansions of entitlements in a country $20 trillion in debt.

The mentality of many immigrants has changed as well from one of excitement at becoming an American, to sometimes resentment that the host has not measured up to particular agendas and expectations. When an immigrant is waved through the border without legality, he has less respect for the United States, whose magnanimity earns contempt as weakness not gratitude for caring. Cheering the Mexican national team and booing the U.S flag at a soccer match in Pasadena are what the host now expects of the guest.

Even unlawful immigrants routinely now sue universities to ensure discounted rates of in-state tuition, sue property owners for being in the way of their illegal migration pathways, sue states for not providing them with driver’s licenses, and sue the U.S. government for insufficient services. In contrast, the Mexican constitution prohibits immigration that imperils the ethnic essence of the Mexican people. Is such a racialist worldview shared by illegal immigrants in their eagerness to see racism as the cause for worry over open borders—on the logic of “our racist government does not let in others unlike ourselves, so why would they?”

The classically liberal ideals of legality, moderation, diversity, assimilation and gratitude explain why America’s immigration policies in the past were so beneficial to the growth of the United States.

Likewise, the lack of all that explains the present immigration chaos.

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)
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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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