By Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media
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.