Full disclosure: I emigrated to America as a teenager, and became a US citizen in 1962.
While America once grew greater and better by assimilating the world’s most disparate peoples, during the past generation immigration has troubled America deeply. The US Senate’s immigration bill, far from “fixing” anything that is “broken” leaves intact the troubles’ sources. Indeed it gives the US government new powers to slice, dice, and dissimilate the American people into categories the more easily to rule us. Herewith an account of why immigration turned from an engine of strength to one of destruction.
Early America was all about immigration. Here immigrants would find more food, and more of the wherewithal of prosperity than anywhere. But they would have to pay for it by accepting unprecedented insecurity and unremitting work. Benjamin Franklin warned prospective immigrants that America is “the land of labor.” This peculiar bittersweet mixture drew self-selected millions to these shores.
The immigrants would also find freedom, among other freedom-seekers. On what basis would all of them get along? America’s Founders, in the process of securing independence, formulated that basis, the national creed “all men are created equal.” This expressed Christian doctrine as well as the freedom practically guaranteed by the continent’s vastness. Abraham Lincoln called that creed the “father of all moral principle the “electric cord” that bound natives and immigrants alike to the great men of that “glorious epoch.”
Living by that principle, living as if individual responsibility and civic piety really are commanded by “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God” and bound by that “cord,” generations of natives and immigrants adopted habits and attitudes that erased Chinese-ness from the Chinese, Sicilian-ness from Sicilians. America even so reduced the relevance of the African slaves’ distinctive color that when their progeny sought roots in the tribes of their origin the tribesmen regarded them as simply “Americans.” By the 1960s nearly all here had become more or less what Lincoln called “blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh” with the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence. None of that assimilation was the doing of government.
By contrast, government is largely responsible for having made today’s America into an engine of dissimilation. As government has grown into the people’s master, a ruling class has arisen intertwined with it that tries to divide America to promote its own superiority. Immigration policy is part of that engine.
Where Lincoln had seen immigrants as responsible persons who become “equal in all things” by embracing our national creed, by the time the statue of liberty was erected its inscription reflected some very different views: Immigrants were now “tired… wretched refuse” – inferiors who need looking after. This suited big city political machines eager to trade favors for the immigrants’ votes as well as well-off Progressives equally eager to salve their social consciences. Over the decades, both sets of attitudes have contributed to our national corruption.
Corruption of the immigrants themselves, however, was limited by the relatively small resources that political machines had available for the purpose – until recently – and by the fact that, again until recently, immigrants by and large continued to be that rare breed who are willing to impose unusual hardship and labor upon themselves – the opposite of “wretched refuse.” All that changed with the Immigration Act of 1965.
That Act’s patron, Senator Ted Kennedy, claimed fraudulently that the Act would merely allow persons from the “western hemisphere” to fill the nation’s overall annual immigration quota on the same basis as persons from Europe – namely capacity to contribute needed talent. But a little noticed provision of that bill established the category “special immigrants,” to be defined by the federal bureaucracy. This discretionary power ended up virtually shutting off immigration from Europe while opening the floodgates to persons from the “third world” – irrespective of capacity to support themselves. It is no accident that the Immigration Act of 1965 coincided with the radical expansion of local, state, and especially federal welfare programs.
This changed immigration’s meaning to America even more than it changed America’s demographics. The modern welfare state obviated need to work especially hard to survive, or to overcome insecurity by contributing to society. Hence, unsurprisingly, many immigrants became clients of the welfare state and reliable voters for the Democratic Party. That is why they were brought. Moreover, their ruling class patrons used the growing presence of persons foreign to the culture and values of the Founders as an excuse to push the culture and values of their political opponents to the margins of society.
Beginning in the 1960s, increasingly dandified native youths shunned agricultural and service jobs. So did the new legal immigrants. This made room for a growing number of laborers from Mexico who came and went freely and seasonally across a basically un-patrolled 2000 mile border. These were not “immigrants,” but rather mostly young men who yearned to get back to their families. They did not come to stay, much less take part in American politics. America came to rely on them to the point that, were a magic wand to eliminate them, whole industries would stop, including California agriculture.
US labor unions however, supported by the Democratic Party, pressed the US government to restrict this illegal flow. While until the 1980s, the US-Mexican border was patrolled by fewer than 1000 agents – nearly all at a handful of crossing points – that number has grown to some 25,000 in our time. As the border began to tighten, making it impossible for the Mexicans to come and go, many brought their families and stayed put in the US between work seasons. Welfare ensnared some, making good laborers into bad immigrants. How many millions stayed illegally is anyone’s guess. By the 21st century, workers had to pay smugglers from 2,500 to 10,000 for a trip North – a price that reflects mostly the cost of bribing the US border patrol.
The controversy over illegal immigration did not touch the core of the immigration problem, namely the Immigration Act of 1965 and our burgeoning welfare system. Nor did it deal with the fact that the illegal flow of Mexicans was really about labor, not immigration, because most Mexican “illegals” had not come with the intention of staying. A well-crafted guest-worker program would give most of them what they want most.
Hence the “illegal immigration problem” is an artifact of the US political system: The Democratic Party wants the Mexicans as voters, the labor unions want the Mexicans as members rather than as competitors, and the Chamber of Commerce wants them for as low a wage as it can enforce.
Hence these three pillars of the modern American corporate state worked out the Senate’s “immigration bill” as a bargain amongst themselves, with a few opportunistic Republicans along for the ride. It places millions of people into categories, setting their wages and defining their class status. This is a reversal of the process that once upon a time had made Americans out foreigners. It is consistent with how our political system increasingly treats citizens: as members of “demographics” who must compete for the government’s largess.
Our ruling class views “immigration” as another tool for marshaling mere Americans into sectors, each having as much dependence as possible on the rulers and as little in common with one another as possible. This requires overcoming a lot of ingrained ideas and habits. That is why the ruling class concentrates on deracinating younger people, whose roots are naturally shallower. Immigrants, having no knowledge of and attachment to the principles and practices of a body politic founded on self-evident truths, may be induced never to gain them.
Far from assimilating foreigners into citizens, an “immigration reform” that defines people as members of sectors and as recipients of privileges furthers the dissimilation of all of us into subjects.