CITY JOURNAL WRITERS long sympathetic to immigration’s economic and social benefits have turned against illegal immigration with a vengeance. Why?
The American Spectator, December 2007/January 2008, by Myron Magnet
I’M EMBARRASSED it took me so long to grasp the phoniness of the charge that it’s “anti-immigration” to oppose current U.S. immigration policy and the even worse “comprehensive reform” bill, which thankfully failed. I can only plead blind piety. After all, I live in the great immigrant metropolis, lit by the Statue of Liberty’s torch, under which all my grandparents sailed a century ago to reach a land that amply fulfilled its promise to them. I feared that my misgivings about today’s immigrant flood were but a short step from the nativist know-nothingism that dismissed my forebears and their fellow newcomers as defective both mentally and culturally, sure to debase American society with their ignorance, poverty, and crudity. Isn’t the lesson of my grandparents’ generation simply this: that American freedom and opportunity have a special magic, an alchemy for transforming tired, poor, huddled masses into free American citizens whose energy and grateful patriotism, and whose progeny, greatly strengthened the nation? However unpromising today’s largely uneducated and unskilled immigrants may appear, do they really look any worse than their predecessors?
Such was the consensus among the writers at City Journal, the conservative magazine I edited from 1994 through 2006. But some years ago, when I sent a writer out to see how the magic Americanizing machine was working, he came back dismayed. After several weeks in a heavily Hispanic Manhattan neighborhood, talking to Catholic priests and their immigrant flocks, he concluded that the alchemy of assimilation was fizzling out. The priests saw their duty as signing up immigrants for every possible subsidy, especially the child-only welfare benefit available to American-born kids of immigrant mothers, a munificent sum to a newcomer from a peasant village. The clerics also were pressing local schools to teach the newly arrived kids in Spanish, so they wouldn’t “lose their cultural heritage.”
Oh dear, my writer thought: Now we have a system that subverts rather than promotes economic enterprise and cultural assimilation, the twin engines of Americanization. That was a story he didn’t want to write.
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