Americanization First
A response to Richard Nadler.


Richard Nadler argues that, for both practical and political reasons, conservatives should have embraced the “comprehensive” immigration-reform legislation that was proposed in Congress in 2007. Perhaps he has forgotten what was in it.

As I wrote two years ago, the bill would have established an impossibly unrealistic one-day background check for illegal immigrants, following which they would have received a temporary visa, and it would have created an amnesty for MS-13 gang members. Other provisions of the bill rejected cooperation between the feds and state and local authorities; established so-called enforcement “triggers”–conditions that had to be met for the “temporary worker” program to take effect–that were almost entirely bureaucratic (e.g., the number of agents hired); did not provide for a real skills-based immigration system; and, according to the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, would have resulted in lifetime costs of around $2 trillion.

Nadler tells us that there are “three permanent interests involved in immigration”: border security; “employment demands,” i.e., business interests in cheap, low-skilled labor; and Hispanic ethnic concerns.

In truth, there is only one interest in American immigration policy that should concern us, and that is promoting the “general welfare” of “We the People of the United States.” Clearly, this would include–along with serious border enforcement and the economic well-being of all our citizens–an emphasis on the patriotic assimilation (Americanization) of newcomers into the American way of life.

For decades, our official policy of promoting massive low-skilled immigration has been accompanied by a de facto anti-assimilation legal regime. This regime consists of letting immigrants maintain dual allegiances, including voting and even running for office in their birth nations; bilingual education; foreign-language voting in U.S. elections; multilingualism in all federally funded organizations (as mandated by Executive Order 13166); and ethnic preferences (“affirmative action”) for new immigrants.

These measures have harmed the patriotic assimilation of immigrants. For example, social scientists Jeffrey Staton, Robert Jackson, and Damarys Canache found in an empirical study that maintaining dual citizenship weakened a naturalized citizen’s attachment to the United States. Another study by Zhenchao Qian and Daniel Lichter showed that increased low-skilled immigration led to a decline in inter-ethnic marriage, which is always characterized as the most powerful indicator of cultural assimilation.

There is plenty of other evidence that Americanization is not proceeding very well. A longitudinal study of 5,000 children of immigrants by two Hispanic-American sociologists, Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut, finds that these children are not patriotically assimilating but instead are “selectively acculturating.” That is to say, they are learning English, but they identify emotionally with their parents’ birth nation instead of with the U.S.A.

A Pew Hispanic Center survey taken about seven months after 9/11 showed the same pattern. Only 34 percent of Latinos who are American citizens considered themselves Americans first; 42 percent identified with the old country first; and 24 percent considered themselves pan-ethnic–“Latino” or “Hispanic”–first. Remember, these are American citizens.

So we have an assimilation problem, which harms American national interests. The good news is that the American people overwhelmingly support patriotic-assimilation policies. A Harris poll commissioned by the Bradley Foundation Project on American National Identity revealed the following attitudes among registered voters in 2008: Fully 90 percent favored “Americanization,” defined as “embracing American culture and values” and learning English; 85 percent believe English should be the official language of the United States; 75 percent oppose immigrant dual citizenship; 71 percent oppose multilingual ballots.

I have a proposal for Richard Nadler: Since you don’t like enforcement of border security first, what about assimilation first?

Would you agree to a real, comprehensive immigration/assimilation reform package that would include (besides serious border enforcement, which you say you favor) ending bilingual education, outlawing immigrant dual citizenship, ending multilingual voting, repealing Executive Order 13166, and ending affirmative-action preferences for naturalized citizens and their children?

If you say yes, then there could be the start of a conservative agreement on this issue. If you say no (which is what Linda Chavez and Clint Bolick said when I proposed this compromise to them), then you would be saying that you’re interested only in increasing low-skilled immigration for short-term political gain, no matter what the cost to national cohesion. In that case, there is no basis for an agreement or even a serious conversation based on principle.
In fact, you would be saying–as you appear to say throughout your NR/NRO piece–that we have to abandon conservative (and, more importantly, American) principles in order to get the votes of certain special-interest groups, including particular types of corporations and a Hispanic demographic that is viewed, inaccurately, as a monolith. Most significantly, you would be saying that you have no problem with a gradual but steady evolution towards a bilingual, binational America–with the result (after decades, to be sure) being the Quebecization of the United States.

– John Fonte is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.