Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Without Assimilation, No Solution will Work

Robert Samuelson addresses what I agree is the key for the illegal immigration debate - we must make sure that new immigrants assimilate to American society.
It's all about assimilation -- or should be. One of America's glories is that it has assimilated many waves of immigrants. Outsiders have become insiders. But it hasn't been easy. Every new group has struggled: Germans, Irish, Jews and Italians. All have encountered economic hardship, prejudice and discrimination. The story of U.S. immigration is often ugly. If today's immigration does not end in assimilation, it will be a failure. By this standard, I think the major contending sides in the present bitter debate are leading us astray. Their proposals, if adopted, would frustrate assimilation.
If we persist in maintaining an two-tiered society where illegal immigrants hide from authorities and so rarely interact with American society, they will never assimilate and we will be stuck with a permanent underclass that feels apart from the rest of the country. That is why I support a combination of heightened border security along with some sort of amnesty for those here. Samuelson envisions a compromise that I could support.
On immigration, I am an optimist. We are basically a decent, open and tolerant nation. Americans respect hard work and achievement. That's why assimilation has ultimately triumphed. But I am not a foolish optimist. Assimilation requires time and the right conditions. It cannot succeed if we constantly flood the country with new, poor immigrants or embark on a vendetta against those already here.

I have argued that our policies should recognize these realities. Curb illegal immigration with true border barriers. Provide legal status (call it amnesty or whatever) -- first, work permits, then citizenship -- for most illegal immigrants already here. Remove the job lure by imposing harsh fines against employers who hire new illegal immigrants. Reject big guest worker programs.
Neither side would be happy with such a plan, but that is what happens with compromises. Now, if only the politicians would realize that a solution is preferable to partisan talking points.