When my father came from Germany as a 19-year old the very first thing he did was to enroll in a class taught at a local public school to learn English. My aunt told me that he became proficient in English in only six weeks. He wanted to be an American and to do so he had to learn the language. Of course, he retained his German heritage. However, assimilation was important to him, as it was to most immigrants.
For years America has drifted away from assimilation, which has become an unspeakable word among the cultural elite. Instead, we are told that we must recognize and celebrate the diversity of various groups without demanding any compromise from them. This has hurt immigrants more than anyone else because many have become isolated in cultural ghettos without a proper command of English, the American political and legal systems or American history and culture. That said, it also has fractured American society.
For the past several years pro-illegal immigration groups have rallied at the beginning of May to demand citizenship opportunities for the estimated twelve million illegal immigrants in the United States and an end to raids on and deportations of these immigrants. This year was no different. There were protests in California, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Illinois and other places. One slight change, however, was the attendance: this year the protests were markedly smaller than before. In 2006, the first these immigration rallies were held, the attendance was around one million people. This year crowds were down to between 300 and 500 per rally.
Many activists were quoted as saying that the drop in attendance was due to fear of government reprisal and deportation among the illegal immigrants themselves. This is highly implausible. Since 2006 the Federal Government has made little progress in enforcing our borders and deporting illegal immigrants.
What worries me is that all three of the remaining presidential candidates - Senators John S. McCain III (R-AZ), Barack H. Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) - support a general amnesty for illegal immigrants. And this amnesty is without any prior successful closure of the U.S.-Mexican Border that would halt further waves of immigrants. McCain pays lip-service to border security and assimilation on his campaign website. He states, "A secure border will contribute to addressing our immigration problem most effectively if we also: recognize the importance of a flexible labor market to keep employers in business and our economy on top, and recognize the importance of assimilation of our immigrant population, which includes learning English, American history and civics, and respecting the values of a democratic society." Obama's website is similar, listing border security as his main priority, followed by "bring[ing] people out of the shadows" to become citizens. Clinton uses much more flowery language but essentially posits the same message.
It should be noted that illegal immigrants do not live in the shadows. They attend American schools, use our hospital emergency rooms as though they were a general practitioner's office and work in specific businesses. If the Federal Government wanted to enforce our current immigration laws, which are sufficient to solve the problem, it could. But there is no willpower to do so.
I suspect that the reason for the drop in attendance at the rallies is not a new burst of patriotism for America among prior attendees but because the issue is not as pressing. What we need to do is return the debate to the topic of assimilation, of learning to speak English, of the value of becoming a citizen, and of pride in a country that provides immigrants from around the world with more opportunities for success than any other country on earth. The latter will be the most difficult. Immigrants need to assimilate to American culture but if we are to demand that they do we must first restore a proper sense of patriotism among American citizens. How can we demand that foreigners respect our country when our own elites so vehemently criticize and disdain everything connected to American history, culture, ideals, governance and traditions?
A return to assimilation and a coherent culture will not begin until we put our own house in order. We cannot expect others to respect us when many Americans themselves are ashamed of their country.