Economics, Pethokoukis

Assimilation, Americanization, and immigration reform

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

For Mickey Kaus, the Gang of Eight bipartisan plan for immigration reform raises many questions. Let’s start by dealing with one:

Are we really that good at assimilating? Yes, American culture is powerful. But now there is an entrenched lobby for bilingual education, and identity politics curricula that teach young people they’re right to resist assimilation. Formal and informal race preferences reward Americans for maintaining separate ethnic identities. And then there’s Univision, which would go out of business if too many people spoke the common language.

All of which is true and a major concern. But insurmountable?

1. The Gang of Eight plan says that once undocumented immigrants receive “probationary legal status,” they will then need to do a variety things to get a green card. Among them, “pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment, among other requirements, in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency.”

I’m not sure what “learn civics” means exactly. Perhaps it will be nothing more than what is currently required to earn citizenship, basically passing a glorified trivia test on current events and US history. But it could and should be so much more (including for green card holders wishing to gain citizenship). Instead of taking a test, make those with probationary legal status take civics courses to more fully understand the American Project, as Yuval Levin has suggested:

Such courses might be certified by the Office of Citizenship, and conducted (in English) by civic or religious groups, community colleges, or private companies like those that prepare students for the SAT. They need cover only the basic concepts of American civic life—as found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the speeches of some of our great men—and the outlines of how these concepts have functioned in American history. Learning the basics in the presence of a teacher and fellow students can make a great deal of difference—for the student, the teacher, and the culture in general.

2. Beyond that, expectations for language proficiency must be raised. According to Pew Research, “two-thirds of all U.S. Hispanics ages five and older either speak only English at home or speak English very well. This compares with 91% of the total U.S. population who are English proficient.” Indeed, exemptions to the English-language requirement for naturalization should be phased out.

3. Legal immigration must be more skills focused than family focused, breaking the pattern of “chain migration”:

Instead of bringing large extended families with limited skills into the U.S., we could specifically select for the qualities–education and work experience, for example–that help immigrants succeed. How would such a system work? We need only look north to see it in practice. Canada assigns points to potential immigrants for various desirable characteristics. For example, holding a graduate degree is worth five times as many points as is holding a high-school diploma. Australia has a similar system. In fact, Canada and Australia take in proportionally three to four times as many immigrants for economic reasons as the U.S. does, and fewer than half as many for family reunification.

4. Jacob Vidgor of the Manhattan Institute notes, “There is some evidence that naturalization rates of the most recent immigrant cohorts are slowing. While this may reflect the high number of recent immigrants who are illegal, and thus ineligible for citizenship, it could also reflect the cumulative impact of longer waiting periods.” So a malfunctioning, inefficient system may itself be discouraging assimilation.

5. And to the extent lousy schools play a role in the lack of assimilation — and I am sure they do — education reform is part of the solution here.

4 thoughts on “Assimilation, Americanization, and immigration reform

  1. Hello Mr. Pethokoukis, I apologize if you’ve already investigated and reported on this question, but what is “probationary legal status”? The name makes it sound like a testing period, so that people who fail to fulfill the stated requirements would lose such legal status after a given period of time. However, I think the Democratic Party would never agree to such an outcome. In that case, with apologizies to our Secretary of State, what difference does it make, at this point, whether unauthorized immigrants on “probation” decide to learn English or not?

  2. It’s all about having more poor folks, used to low wages and poor police/gang states so they won’t mind a New World Order where there is “austerity” for the peasants/slaves/serfs and they won’t mind BIG Brother watching every move they do.

    • You’re a bit all over the place but there are several factors for this immigration mess:

      1. You’ve already touched upon cheap labor. There is a fundamental conflict, a conflict that the conservative media has been shockingly bad at telling, between the grassroots base and the plutocrats that fund the pols at the top. The plutocrats want cheap labor so they can gut all your bargaining chips and therefore make you a docile worker who will accept anything, including a pay decrease, with nothing but a grateful cheer.

      2. Ethnic activism. Let’s talk about the 400 pound gorilla in the room. There’s plenty of people who came recently to this country who want more of their people in simply because of ethnic activism. Anyone who disagrees is a ‘racist’, which is funny, since they’re the real racists.

      3. The media. The conservative movement has been very slow and still do not get it fully, of how important the media is. The media sets the frame of reference of the discussion. Fundamentally, if the media is 90% liberal, you’ll never win in the long run because the media shapes the culture and eventually the culture will shape the politics. Media culture is incredibly hostile to what we might call ‘traditional America’.

      What saddens me is how many, often white, Middle Americans, have accepted those stereotypes and often racial slurs. (‘Redneck’, ‘hick’, ‘white trash’, ‘gun nut’ and so on). These are racial slurs that the same media whores would never get away with by throwing them at poor inner city blacks.

      5. Race and whites. Another 400 pound gorilla in the room. Until white Americans get their own – and this is important – bipartisan ethnic lobby, they will delude themselves into thinking that the GOP will protect their interests. It won’t. It will only protect the interests of it’s donors. White Americans is the only group in America that does not have a major organizational structure to protect it’s ethnic interests. All groups have ethnic interests. To deny otherwise is to delude yourself. And some of those interests for white America include the ending of affirmative action as well as a cooldown to mass (and unskilled) immigration from the third world.

      But whites thought they could rely on the GOP, but now that is being seen as a massive mistake.

      My hope is that the GOP is abandoned and that whites in America do what literally every other group has been able to figure out: create your own ethnic organizations and make sure they are bipartisan. Where are the white student unions for example? The list can go on.

      How long will it be tenable for there to be a Hispanic congressional caucus, a black congressional causus, a Jewish congressional caucus and so on but no white congressional caucus? You might say, well there are a lot of white people in congress. And that’s true. But with the passing of this mass amnesty, can you say they have the interests of their own group background in mind?

      A counter might be, but this is America, and it shouldn’t be. My response is that is wonderfully white and idealistic to say. Too bad every other group doesn’t see it that way. Time to wake up.

  3. Under current US law every illegal immigrant, that has children born in the USA, has a legal way to gain entry to the USA. They can have their US born children sponsor them, the illegal immigrant parents, after the children have become adults. If the US born children of illegal immigrant parents do not want to help their parents get US residency, why should I?

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