In my various recent writings on America’s looming immigration “crisis”, I’ve tried to work my way in the general direction of an intellectual solution. Although I don’t have a full idea of the solution yet, one of the most important aspects is assimilation. Danielle and I have discussed it a bit, which helps me organize my thoughts beyond the simple concept, but I’m not at the end yet. I’m not sure when that will happen, which is why today’s editorial by Robert Samuelson is useful. I don’t agree with everything he writes, but I like this passage for its compact summation of the need for assimilation by new immigrants.
We have a conspiracy against assimilation. One side would offend and ostracize much of the Hispanic community. The other would encourage mounting social and economic costs. Either way we get a more polarized society.
On immigration, I am an optimist. We are basically a decent, open and tolerant nation. Americans respect hard work and achievement. That’s why assimilation has ultimately triumphed. But I am not a foolish optimist. Assimilation requires time and the right conditions. It cannot succeed if we constantly flood the country with new, poor immigrants or embark on a vendetta against those already here.
I like that as a starting point. Assimilation is important to maintain a shared American culture built on our common ideals. Those should not be so easily discarded simply because we’re afraid to hold an expectation. American culture is vibrant, resilient, and essential, but it will not hold if we embrace irrational immigration policies.
One aspect of assimilation should be an English requirement, which, contrary to this Reason piece, does not mean that I think a language such as Spanish should have no influence. An English requirement, among other expectations, would work to reduce the chances of further dividing us into a multi-cultural society. That is dangerous, as evidenced by the difficulties facing the U.K. and other nations more willing to impose low standards. This commonly involves bending laws away from the national legal foundation in favor of avoiding offending new groups. That would be a suicidal path. American history shows that immigrants to America understand that. I think they still do. The question is, do we?
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I interviewed a candidate this morning who used the word “acculuturation” to describe some of the concepts above. It’s an interesting choice of words. After all, is our goal to void immigrants’ home culture outright, as might be implied in the word “assimiliate”, or is to provide information about and encouragement of American culture for their own success?
Also, having a solid knowledge of English is a requirement for naturalization, and would make sense as a requirement for a resident alien card (“green card”). Is it in our best interest, for example, to make this a requirement for immigrants on six-month visas to pick strawberries, who live in work-site housing?
Much like you, I am forming my own thoughts on this matter and haven’t reached a definitive conclusion. But as a product of parents whose dream early in life was to live the “California dream” and emigrate from Canada, it is one I intend to think about more and more.
The word should have been “acculturation” – too many u’s in there.
I thought the extra u was the Canadian spelling. 😉
Thanks for commenting.
I intended “assimilation” to mean an acceptance of shared ideals (liberty, free speech, respect for minority opinion, etc.), not cultural assimilation (Hee-Haw, baseball, and Britney Spears). Like the use of language, input is fine. It’s impossible to prevent an outsider becoming an insider from influencing the direction of the culture. That makes us stronger and more interesting. I wouldn’t get rid of that.
For example, an English requirement doesn’t mean I’ll expect English all the time or get upset when I hear another language. If I moved to Germany, I’d expect to know German, but I’m fluent and comfortable with English. At home, and with friends, I’d still go with English. I can’t hold others to a standard that I wouldn’t hold to. An English requirement only mandates basic proficiency to allow someone to function (in commerce, emergencies, etc.)
Ultimately, I do believe most immigrants move here for something better. They want to fit in and be a part of America. That’s what our laws should reflect.
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