Mark Steyn, whom I admire greatly, should tap his jaw back into place. Virtually no one who uses the term “nation of immigrants” in the course of political debate to describe America has in his mind only Ellis Island or intends to suggest that most Americans have ever themselves been immigrants. The phrase is obviously intended to highlight the identity of Americans as descendants of various waves of immigration, and indeed to suggest some kind of affection for or approval of these waves of immigration. It may seem comical that there are North Carolinians whose ancestors arrived in 1755 and yet still get together to wear kilts, blow bagpipes (badly), and talk about the “Old Country,” but it just happens to be a comic reality. The point is, the celebration of ties to other lands, stemming from the immigration of one’s forebears, remains fairly common throughout much of the country.
That’s the vein of sentiment the politicians are tapping with the phase. The vein isn’t a figment of the imagination. That doesn’t mean that politicians ought to use the phrase so foolishly, or that fond feelings about our “nation of immigrants” need translate into any particular view about immigration policy today.