In Brief: Immigration Yes, Multiculturalism No
America benefits from immigration — when it thoroughly vets newcomers.
Immigrants to America should want to become Americans, not just reap the benefits of our economic blessings. Dennis Saffran, a Queens-based attorney, says it’s time to start pushing that again.
Explaining that he’d only been to Ellis Island once, “despite being a lifelong New Yorker,” he recalled viewing the 1989 documentary “Island of Hope, Island of Tears.”
The film’s title aptly reflects its theme: the hope and the tears of the millions who passed through the island are inextricably linked. The hope and promise of American immigration could not, and cannot, be achieved without the hardheaded policies that produced the tears.
The short film shows the remorseless vetting immigrants faced and the inevitable sorrow of family separation as some were rejected. Most of this vetting was for health reasons, but that was linked to other important considerations concerning their fitness for admission: “America did not want the burden of an unhealthy immigrant; America wanted a person who could make a living.” People were turned away for “mental difficulties” as well as physical ones and had to produce “a letter from a relative guaranteeing they would not become a public charge” and “proof that they were not … a dangerous alien.”
The exclusion of those who would be a burden or a danger to America was one of the two pillars of immigration policy that made it possible for the country to absorb successfully some 20 million newcomers between 1880 and 1920. The other was a continual emphasis on assimilation and “Americanization” of the new arrivals.
Saffran quotes Teddy Roosevelt, who once said, “We should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American and nothing but an American.”
Saffran laments modern reality:
Previous generations of immigrants and their children were acculturated in a celebration of American history, values, and ideals — a message constantly reinforced by schools, the entertainment industry, and other powerful institutions. Today, by contrast, a continuous drumbeat of propaganda bombards immigrants from almost the moment they step off the plane at JFK, undermining their nascent love for the country taking them in and instead encouraging them to cling to their native language and every other aspect of the places from which they’re fleeing. It’s a recipe for the “tangle of squabbling nationalities” that TR feared, and it fuels understandable hostility to immigration among citizens who fear the resulting loss of national cohesion.
He concludes an obvious but suppressed truth: “Assimilation can be difficult under the best of circumstances, but multiculturalism, which is inherently hostile to the goal, makes it impossible.”
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