In his own inimical way, Donald Trump has again forced the immigration issue to the top of the charts with remarks that actually include a number of good points, but it’s unfortunate that through all the bombastic tone he can’t productively articulate the critical nuances that are necessary to actually craft a winning message.
Over the 17 years of The Texas Pilgrim, aside from education, I have probably written more about immigration policy than any other subject and I have come to think about it more than ever as an issue the core of which is more than an item on a list of policy disagreements. It truly is in many ways the wedge issue because it is much more about who we are and what we have become and, particularly in this election, why a candidate like Trump can energize the rabid following that he has.
In revisiting what I have previously written, I find that my views have not really changed very much. In February 2004, I wrote this, and I still feel the same way:
“It seems to me that this issue as much as any presents a convergence of often conflicting American passions—our compassion for the underdog, our heritage as an immigrant nation, our free market idealism, and our commitment to the rule of law. I would like to believe that we will resolve it with due respect for all these instincts, but I know that some parts of all of them will suffer. I am not a“restrictionist” as that term has been defined, but I come down on the side of those who believe that we will not solve this problem without first committing
to a policy of restoring the value of citizenship and strictly controlling our borders, while requiring assimilation to this culture by those we choose to admit.”
At the end of the day, this debate is largely about different ideas of what it means to be an American citizen and, as noted by Noah Pickus of Duke University in his 2007 book True Faith and Allegiance: Immigration and American Civic Nationalism, “we now face the difficult task of sustaining a civic nation in the absence of a dominant culture, ethnic identity, or consensus on the meaning of constitutional values”, making the challenge of forging unity much more difficult than in the founding era or even in the Progressive Era. Why? I submit that it is because the assault of the ideas of multiculturalism and postmodernism by our cultural and educational institutions over the past several decades, as well as the advent of market globalization, has undermined this consensus about what is meant by American citizenship.
Our founders didn’t envision the naturalization process as a means to boost the labor supply or voting rolls. The ultimate end, the purpose of granting citizenship is to help create one people who share a common allegiance. And this allegiance is to more than an abstract universal idea, although it must surely begin there.
We have been able to accommodate the “tired and huddled masses” because we have been and remain the exceptional nation, the only one in world history based on a proposition. But there was always a catch–that, as Teddy Roosevelt so aptly put it, “there is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.” In his forthright manner, he was referring to complete assimilation, one of the great miracles of the 20th century, and I don’t believe he at all had in mind a disavowal of cultural heritage.
The American cultural mosaic produced by late 19th and early 20th century assimilation was a model to be applauded, but over the past several decades the ideology of multiculturalism has gone far beyond healthy cultural pride to divided loyalties. What we have today in far too many cases is a new proposition, one that contemplates dual citizenship, dual loyalties, multiculturalism, bilingualism, and yes, often sanctuary from enforcement of the law, while our leadership class does nothing. It’s not about cultural holidays, it’s the ethnic nationalism, primarily initiated by the radical advocacy groups and aided and nurtured by the “open borders” crowd and their fellow travelers. All of this causes many otherwise well-intentioned people to become cynical and to reach for the lesser angels of their nature. This, and the total disregard for the law and American sovereignty, is what has sullied the honorable concept of sanctuary and has fed what has in some cases been manifest in an ugly nativism.
Currently, the issue is often expressed solely in terms of border control and its implications for national security, which no doubt is a threat, but to me it’s about much more—it’s about the credibility of the rule of law in a society that preaches it consistently to emerging democracies but looks away as it is snubbed with impunity by those in this country who hire illegal labor; it’s about fundamental fairness to law-abiding legal immigrants; it’s about the unreasonable burden on our taxpayers of the welfare and education of illegal immigrants; it’s about whether a nation can practice one of the most basic acts of sovereignty—the control of its borders; and it’s about preserving our culture in the face of its undermining by the ravages of multiculturalism.
In a previous issue, I passed along the remarks of former Colorado Governor Richard D. Lamm from a 2004 immigration-overpopulation conference in Washington, D. C., who paraphrased noted British historian Arnold Toynbee from A Study of History, his very popular mid-20th century study of the rise and fall of civilizations in world history which is worth repeating, as follows:
“Arnold Toynbee observed that all great civilizations rise and fall and ultimately commit suicide, and so, to destroy America, here is how we do it. First, turn America into a bilingual or multilingual and bicultural country, thereby creating unbearable tension; second, invent multiculturalism and encourage immigrants to maintain their culture, making it an article of belief that all cultures are equal; third, celebrate diversity rather than unity, and favor tolerance over hegemony of the dominant culture; fourth, make our fastest growing demographic group the least educated, with a 50% high school dropout rate; fifth, get big foundations and big businesses to give these diversity and multicultural efforts lots of money, investing in ethnic identity and financing the grievance industry; sixth, advance the concept of dual citizenship and divided loyalties; seventh, place all these subjects off limits for debate—make it taboo to talk against the cult of diversity; and eighth, make it almost impossible to enforce our immigration laws.”
Can the old citizenship consensus be restored? We’re about to find out, with far-reaching consequences for our republic.