Tuesday, August 3, 2010


"You can sing about sea to shining sea or amber waves of grain, but it's immigration that provides America's basic rhythm. Nothing distinguishes the American experience from that of other nations more than the mass migration of people from elsewhere to here. We are truly a nation of immigrants: Close to 90% of the population--excluding Native Americans and those who were forced here in shackles--moved here out of their own volition.

Not that this has made things any easier for immigrants. In the 1850s the nativist Native American Party--reacting to a wave of Irish Catholic and German immigrants--declared that America faced "an imminent peril" from immigrants "of an ignorant and immoral character." California in the late 19th century tried to ban Asian immigration and land ownership. In 1924 immigration from everywhere outside northern Europe was severely restricted.

The current wave of immigration, largely from Asia and Latin America, has once again sparked nativist fears. (Witness Arizona's recent, harsh immigration law.) Yet America needs immigrants now more than ever. The U.S., like virtually all advanced countries, produces insufficient native-born children to prevent it from becoming a granny nation-state by 2050.

Only immigration can provide the labor force, the expanding domestic markets and, perhaps most important, the youthful energy to keep our society vital and growing. Many bustling sections of American cities--the revived communities along the number 7 train line in Queens, N.Y., Houston's Harwin Corridor, Los Angeles' San Gabriel Valley--are dominated by immigrant enterprise. In contrast, the cities without large-scale immigration, such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, have stagnant and even declining populations.

In the future successful immigration will distinguish America from most key competitors. Globally, resistance to immigration or any form of linguistic, religious or ethnic diversity has become more commonplace. Over the past few decades Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Indonesia and the nations of the former East Bloc have constricted their concept of national identity. In Malaysia, East Africa and even the province of Quebec preferential policies have led successful minorities such as Jews, Armenians, Coptic Christians Indians and Chinese to find homes in more welcoming places, often in the U.S.

In recent decades Europe has received as many immigrants as the U.S., but it has proved far less able to absorb them. The roughly 20 million Muslims who live in Europe remain marginalized. In Europe, notably in France, unemployment among immigrants--particularly those from Muslim countries--is often at least twice that of the native born; in Britain as well Muslims are far more likely to be out of the workforce than either Christians or Hindus."

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