The Boston Marathon terror attack has pushed the problem of assimilation to the forefront of the debate over immigration reform. The younger bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, took his oath of citizenship on September 11, 2012, of all dates. Although his older brother and the mastermind of the plot, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had been investigated by the FBI in 2011, his citizenship application was still pending at the time of the bombing. These terrorists wanted to be Americans, yet they nursed a murderous hatred for the United States. Clearly the quest for citizenship is no guarantee of assimilation. Sad to say, the Tsarnaevs are but extreme examples of a far wider breakdown in America’s system of assimilation. We ought not to be mulling amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants before putting that system back in order.
One of the architects of this country’s ethos of assimilation, Teddy Roosevelt, delivered an 1894 address called “True Americanism,” which seems almost to have been written with the Tsarnaevs in mind: “We freely extend the hand of welcome and of good-fellowship to every man, no matter what his creed or birthplace, who comes here honestly intent on becoming a good United States citizen like the rest of us; but we have a right, and it is our duty, to demand that he shall indeed become so and shall not confuse the issues with which we are struggling by introducing among us Old World quarrels and prejudices.” It’s a message today’s immigrants are no longer hearing.