After Securing the Borders, Don't Forget About Assimilation

Navigating through disputed numbers and economic analyses that have clouded the illegal immigration debate, some, including members of Congress, even looked to scripture to determine how to treat the stranger in our land. Scripture, not surprisingly, suggests that the stranger should be treated well. But scripture also requires the stranger to keep the laws of a new land.

Contradictory scripture too is not enough to forge an immigration policy. Yet there may be scriptural guidance from the New Testament parable of the talents and the three stewards, which teaches that we should not hoard our wealth in excess caution, but to make greater wealth from our abundance.

Our nation has been blessed. We must be good stewards of our national strength and culture. Through the crucible of our history, Americans have been forged into a unique people, grateful for our abundance and willing always to share our fortune and liberty.

As an immigrant myself, I understand that we must protect our border and enforce our laws, but we must also have a farsighted immigration policy—and not for our welfare alone. The world depends on the success of the American project, not least of all the eager strangers who come to our borders and shores.

It is a no-brainer to support legislation that places border security and interior enforcement first. In fact, no measure has gone far enough to penalize employers that induce illegal immigration by breaking the law. Current proposals give a pass to employers who hire up to 10 illegal aliens and shelter contractors from responsibility for the illegal employment practices of sub-contractors.

The largest amnesty to be had in last year’s congressional solutions was the amnesty to lawless employers. When the time comes again for a cohesive immigration reform, this must change.

Targeting border security and employment enforcement, however, is only a first step to calm the mounting concern that Americans have over immigration. Arizona’s exit polling made that clear last week. Arizona voters re-elected Sen. Jon Kyl, who voted against last year’s irresponsible Senate bill, even while 56% of them said that they favor offering a legal status to illegal immigrants. But a whopping 74% of Arizonans voted to adopt English as the border state’s official language.

Americans are more genuinely concerned over assimilation than with the number of immigrants. And that concern cannot be dismissed as either racist or nativist. Providence and history have forged Americans into a unique people. We naturally believe that we must be good stewards of our unique past and national character.

Some fear that America is less able today than at any other time to assimilate immigrants. Assimilation will come to new legal immigrants as it has to others, but Americans are right to be concerned over the assimilation of illegal immigrants who cannot by the nature of their status fully assimilate.

Unfortunately, much harm has been done to thoughtful discussion about assimilation by radical elements and special interests at both extremes that have used the debate to foment marginal—even ridiculous—arguments. But if one believes in the power of good ideas, we should know that America’s ideas are as powerful as ever to foster assimilation.

Our concern must translate into a new vigilance over the forces that may stall assimilation. That concern has little to do with hapless immigrants. They are not responsible for new assimilation hurdles. We are. We have created a welfare state dependence that lures new victims. We have abandoned many of the institutions of assimilation—our schools—to apologetic and even antagonistic forces, and a bevy of intellectually weak ideas such as multiculturalism.

These forces have reduced the historic power of assimilation to the detriment of the children of immigrants. Polls show, in fact, that immigrants want to speak English and want their children to speak English. Yet liberal elites have made this more difficult. Immigrants are not the problem.

A truly comprehensive immigration reform will end in neither border fences nor guest workers. It will include legislation that reinforces education and the primacy of the English language in the public square, not as an element of cultural superiority, but as a fundamental indicator of our national identity and particular history.

Doing the work of assimilation does not have to be expensive. It can tap into faith-based community for both the education and outreach process needed to implement any solution, to teach English and implement educational programs aimed at patriotic assimilation, teaching basic history and preparing parents to guide their children’s safety and advancement.

When Congress and the White House begin again to consider an immigration reform they must keep their sights on border security, increase their emphasis on employer enforcement, but they must also listen more closely to what many Americans most fear—that America is changing.

Protecting America means more than protecting our borders, it means also being good stewards of our national character and culture.