The Immigrant Song
Conservatives can start singing it to the entire country again.


Lee Habeeb

Last but not least, the GOP must do its best to promote more immigration, not less. And we should welcome not only the immigrants who bring capital or who have high-tech skills, but also the kind that Emma Lazarus wrote about in her sonnet “The New Colossus,” some lines of which appear on the Statue of Liberty: “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Let’s also work harder to tell the great story of America’s immigrant past. We keep hearing stories that America is about to become a majority-minority nation, but that notion is pure hogwash. It is an invention of the Left, which is doing its best to divide Americans not only by class, but by ethnicity, too.

In an interview with Hugh Hewitt for his 2006 book The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again, Michael Barone corrected the record:

We have long since been a minority nation, if you go by the definitions of a hundred years ago. A hundred years ago, Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish immigrants were called different races . . . And people thought they would never blend in, would never be interwoven into the American fabric. Well, now . . . that obviously has been proven false, and now the census just classifies them as white.

Barone, whose ancestors came to America in the early 20th century from Italy, added this:

One of the things I cite in the book is 1912 testimony by an expert on ethnic groups to a committee of the United States Senate, and the Senator says “Is the Italian a white man?” And the expert says “No, sir. He is a Dago.” That was . . . it was a different race. That was a hundred years ago. 

The idea that there is today an Italian vote or an Irish vote is simply preposterous. Italians have married Irish, who have married Mexicans, who have married Brazilians and Asians. We are like a fine gumbo, our heritage so thoroughly mixed up that to identify with each ethnic group as separate is to do battle with yourself.

The future of America is no different as we continue to share and mix ancestry — and all because the ideals of America are still alive. The lure of economic opportunity brings us here. The pull of love shatters the demographers’ imagination and all ethnic barriers.

One member of the huddled masses was an Italian immigrant named Frank Capra. He came to this country when he was six, and he went on to give us such film classics as It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life, and his proudest achievement, his seven-episode masterpiece, Why We Fight, which he made for the War Department during World War II.

In a speech at the American Film Institute in 1982, after receiving its Lifetime Achievement Award, Capra talked about the journey that brought him to America. With vivid detail he recalled the ship that left Italy “crammed with praying immigrants.” He told the story of his dad’s dragging him to the deck when that ship hit the Port of New York and pointing to a glow from a torch that lit the sky.

“That’s the greatest light since the Star of Bethlehem,” his father told the young boy.

“I looked up,” recalled Capra, “and there was the Statue of a great lady, taller than a church steeple, holding a lamp over the land we were about to enter, and my father said to me: ‘It’s the light of freedom, Chico, freedom. Remember that. Freedom.’”

The next Frank Capra might just be on a boat or a plane heading from Ecuador or El Salvador or Nigeria, seeking that same freedom Capra’s family sought. That yearning to be free is what these immigrants want, not more government controls. Indeed, it is government controls they are fleeing.

Yes, we need to keep talking about jobs and free markets and the size and scale of government, but we need to talk more deeply — and more soulfully — about who we are, we Americans, and how we got here, and why we are fighting for that tradition to continue as new refugees arrive from all over the world, powering us forward.

If we do, the GOP might just find itself in the majority again — inspiring people rather than lecturing them.

And new immigrants, Asians and Hispanics included, will be leading the charge.

— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan. Mike Leven is the COO and president of the Las Vegas Sands.