Protests over proposed immigration reforms raged across the country last week, bringing to light the elephant that has been in the room for some time now: illegal immigration.
What to do?
For starters, we must move beyond the vitriol. Pointed words and political posturing won’t get us anywhere.
Next, we must acknowledge that while border security and law enforcement are indispensable aspects of immigration reform, it is assimilation—that is, uniting all Americans (new immigrants and old) around shared values, customs and a common language—that holds the key to a safe and prosperous American future.
Assimilation was once standard procedure in America. As immigrants streamed across the Atlantic from Europe, they willingly forsook their old allegiances and took on a new national identity. That’s not the case today. Have immigrants changed? Nope—they’re still, on the whole, earnest, hardworking people who, having voted with their feet, like America very much. Has America changed? You bet.
As I write in my book Getting America Right, America has fallen prey to the forces of a multi-cultural agenda that has rejected what was once our national motto (E pluribus unum—out of many, one) and worked tirelessly to erode our prized national unity. What used to be seen as a melting pot, producing distinctive Americans from a hodgepodge of nationalities, has cooled to a salad bowl whose contents retain their original shapes and flavors.
As a result, new immigrants are not expected to learn our history, master our common language or even demonstrate loyalty and commitment to America. This practice devalues, if not trivializes, citizenship. And as the value drops, citizenship, once a prized invitation to join the American family as an equal member, becomes just another commodity.
Ronald Reagan once warned, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” If we are to preserve our freedom and prosperity for our posterity, we must confront the forces of multiculturalism that seek to tear us apart. Let’s consider two of these forces in turn.
In the past, new citizens of this great country had to have passed a rigorous testing process administered by an examiner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) that evaluated their moral character, command of the English language and understanding of American history, culture and political heritage.
Then, in a formal courtroom, a federal judge would lead them through the oath of citizenship, telling them what it meant to be citizens and how to live up to their responsibilities.
The seriousness of the process signaled the seriousness of citizenship. It was a reciprocal agreement: America extended the privilege of citizenship, and immigrants accepted the responsibilities of being American.
Today, however, all seriousness in the citizenship process has been lost. Instead, new immigrants merely pass a standardized, multiple-choice test that is often administered in their native language rather than in English. Then, after a perfunctory chat with an interviewer, a nondescript INS bureaucrat reads them the oath of citizenship.
We must put an end to rubberstamp citizenship. We must instill in our new citizens the great concepts that govern our nation: liberty, equality and the rule of law. We must teach them the full rights and duties of citizens, not just the ritual of voting and the benefits of a passport. We must require new citizens know our language well enough to participate in the great democratic debate that keeps us free, and to that end, we must stop giving tests in any language but English.
Finally, when our new citizens have won the prize, we must bestow it with dignity and honor in a ceremony worthy of the occasion. America is a land of lofty ideals, none greater than the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Let’s act like it.
Bilingual education is a Trojan horse in the lives of new immigrants. It looks like a thoughtful attempt at hospitality, but in fact, it prevents new immigrants from learning English and is therefore a de facto sentence to the belly of the American underclass.
In my home state of California, for instance, Hispanic children in bilingual education programs have been shown to be delayed by a full generation in assimilating to their new country. By contrast, children in “English immersion” classes, taught only in English, have more than double the rate of English proficiency.
Of course, this works out great for government bureaucrats. Under the guise of multi-cultural altruism, they construct an underclass that, without the ability to speak English, has little opportunity for professional advancement. In turn, the immigrants are forced to rely on government to provide for their basic needs.
As a conservative, however, I believe in the power of upward mobility. It is an American custom to work tirelessly and often anonymously to build a better life for our children. Most immigrants understand the importance of this virtue. This is why 80% of Hispanics that were recently surveyed preferred their children learn English quickly. One clear way to do that is to put an end to the scourge of bilingual education. We must teach immigrants in English, so that they may grow to become self-reliant teachers, doctors and lawyers—leaders—in a society that welcomes them as equals rather than treating them as helpless subordinates.
It has been said that great nations more often collapse from internal strife than external enemies. Our immigration problem underscores this frightening truth.
It’s time to get serious. It’s time to start treating citizenship like the privilege that it is. It’s time to start knocking down the barriers that prevent new immigrants from becoming self-reliant citizens. It’s time to focus on unifying, not dividing our great nation. It’s time to think about what it means to be American.