The Corner

Politics & Policy

Race, Culture, and Immigration

Dara Lind writes in Vox:

As an immigration reporter, one of the things I struggle most with is making it clear that there are arguments for restrictions on immigration that are not necessarily motivated by racial animus, while acknowledging that, often, it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

She notes, for example, that some people sincerely think that illegal immigration undermines the rule of law, some people want lower legal immigration levels, and some people want to shift immigration policy toward some notion of “merit.”

She continues:

The problem is that some of the people who espouse all those attitudes are consumed, at heart, by the fear that the America they know is being lost or in danger of being lost. They believe that America has a distinctive and tangible culture, and that too much immigration from cultures that are too different will dilute or drown it; they may even worry about a cultural “invasion.”

This is an anxiety born of xenophobia. It accepts as a premise that people who come to America from certain places “don’t assimilate,” and concludes that there are some groups of people who cannot ever be fully American. . . .

You can’t negotiate with people who believe that an America that lets in people from “shithole countries” isn’t the America they know or love. Either America is a nation of immigrants or it is a nation of blood and soil. It cannot be both.

What Lind is ignoring—in common with many other commentators on immigration, as I have noted before—is that it is possible to favor lower immigration on grounds that are cultural but not racial. (I touch on this possibility in my Bloomberg View column today.) You can favor reduced immigration to slow cultural change or to preserve cultural cohesion, that is, without denying that immigrants from Africa can assimilate and become “fully American.”

As she rightly points out, it is also true that some opponents of immigration just don’t want more dark-skinned people in the U.S. And it is true as well that many of these impulses can co-exist within the same people. But if you mistakenly treat cultural conservatism and racial animosity as identical, you will overestimate the extent to which “blood and soil” concerns drive the politics of immigration.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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