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.