In his 1997 book "Assimilation, American Style," Peter Salins describes the recipe for the stew in the melting pot that nourished the generations of immigrants who have made America the magnet for the ambitious and the hard-working of the world: 1) the importance of English as a national language, 2) the liberal (in the classic sense) and egalitarian beliefs that have defined us, and 3) the Protestant ethic of hard work, also called "self-reliance." Many of us fear out-of-control immigration because we fear that the recipe has been discarded.
Bilingualism delays assimilation, but the English language as a unifying force suffers less from bilingual programs for immigrants than from discarding the classic works in English in literature, philosophy and history, undercutting sources of pride in the English language and culture. This damages the following generation's understanding of liberal and egalitarian policies, distorting the ideals bequeathed by the Founding Fathers. Self-reliance is lost in the appeal to group identity.
But among the Hispanics I know in Washington, who came here from El Salvador, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, some of whom arrived legally and some who have stayed through the amnesties, self-reliance is the constant. What's striking about them and their families is their pride in putting down roots in the United States and becoming Americans. Economic opportunity attracted them, but there's pride in eagerly adopted American customs.
George Bush is finally talking tough about immigration enforcement, and it's time to secure our borders, but Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff expresses reality, too, when he observes that the cost of identifying the 10 million illegal aliens here, and sending them home, would run into billions of dollars. "It's really an issue of practicality," he says. Many Americans agree. In a poll last month of 800 likely Republican voters, the Manhattan Institute in New York found that 84 percent think such deportation is impossible, and 58 percent say "earned legalization" is the proper pathway to citizenship.
Control of the border is what everybody wants, but the illegals who are here are going to stay here. That's the reality. Since we're not sending them home, we must encourage their ambition to prosper within the traditions that make us all Americans.