Conservatives are the champions of American exceptionalism, the notion that we are different from other nations. We are a nation whose people are bound by the Constitution. We are not a people bound by blood and soil, but rather, in Abraham Lincoln's words, "a nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," and built by men and women who trace their origins to every part of the globe. We have successfully integrated millions of illiterate peasants from southern and eastern Europe, German and Scandinavian farmers, destitute Irish cottiers, and Asian laborers and fishermen, most of whom in their early migration came from largely feudal societies.
These earlier immigrants came to America much like the illegal immigrants of the past few decades. Early immigrants made dangerous and difficult trips and simply showed up on our shores (or crossed the land border from Mexico or Canada). There were no laws regulating much less barring entry until late in our history. Why should we doubt that we could accomplish the same thing with Hispanic immigrants, including the undocumented who gain legal status?
Instead of standing athwart history and yelling stop, conservatives should be at the forefront of helping those who gain legal status to become fully American. Conservatives should be doing everything they can to teach these newcomers English, to help them learn American history and civics, to imbue them with a sense of love for and devotion to their new country. Bush should be a leader in efforts to persuade his fellow conservatives to adopt this as their special mission.
If conservatives shun these 11 million people instead of helping them fully Americanize and embrace their civic obligations, we will cede their allegiance to liberals for generations to come. As a conservative (with the battle scars to prove it), I believe this would be a great tragedy, not only for the conservative movement and the Republican Party, but also for the future of America.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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