Immigration and America’s Unchosen Future

In these and other areas, the glue seems not to be holding across the American nation. Samuel Huntington reports in Who Are We? that nineteen scholars were asked to evaluate the level of “American national integration” over time, and on a scale of one to five, with one the highest, they rated 1930 at 1.71, 1950 at 1.46, 1970 at 2.65, and 1990 at 2.60. Scholars from many disciplines, Huntington reports, perceive “the eclipse of nationhood,” “faded patriotism,” “the devaluation of American citizenship,” and speak of the U.S. in the early twenty-first century as moving into a “transnational era.” Historian John Higham, who had become an advocate of immigration restriction despite his reputation of a critic of that persuasion, wrote in 1997: “Ethno-racial tensions are acute and in some ways growing. Are we witnessing an approaching end of nation-building itself? An erosion of the nation- state, as its capacity to maintain national borders and an effective national center weakens?” And in 1999, Higham again wrote: “Nation-building has collapsed both as strategy and concern, particularly in the high culture of the academic world. If so, immigration may prove to be just an aspect of a wider social fragmentation.” Aspect and major contributing cause.

* * *

A Future-Aligned Alternative Immigration Policy

The central message of our immigration reductionist social movement over three decades has been making the case that a small immigration regime, with different selection criteria, is in the national interest for multiple reasons, and must replace the costly Expansionist tidal wave authorized in 1965. We have made this case with many voices for thirty years, and have built a social movement organized from tiny grassroots groups upward to several national organizations. We did not turn immigration policy decisively our way; indeed, we saw matters worsen. More of that may lie ahead.

But to me this is not yet a narrative of defeat. When the American feminists met at Seneca Falls in 1848, they did not imagine that the right to vote would come only after seventy-two years of struggle. Social movements to bring fundamental change to this large country have a history that teaches patience driven by determination. Still, it is fair for activists to ask: “What did we get for all the small and large contributions of money, of faxes sent to senators and letters to editors and meetings small and large?” Not yet the turnaround we seek. Yet we have awakened, encouraged and empowered many Americans, have won some small skirmishes, and have recently fought off a disastrous Expansionist campaign, and are well organized, Mainstreet to Washington, for the next stage of the struggle.

Most important, in the historical shadow of an earlier immigration restriction movement, we managed to craft a new language and tone— immigration reform toward lower numbers, again, but this time without the nineteenth century’s nativism or xenophobia, without disparaging immigrants or their cultures, reserving condemnation for our own incompetent and shortsighted public officials and ethnocentric lobbyists rather than the immigrants caught in the mighty currents of globalization.

In the language of the civil rights movement, being in “the struggle” was in a sense its own reward. As I served four years in the Navy Reserve and three years on active duty with the U. S. Marines, I thought this met the needs of my patriotic impulses. My professional career led me into the world of research university academics, a world of dedicated and admirable people. But in the contemporary university world, patriotism is a forgotten if not thought to be a distasteful, war- starting term. Immigration reform brought me into association with people who had glimpsed a problem ahead for our nation and our children, and made time in their lives to try to steer the nation in a different and better direction, at the cost of attacks on their character and values. That is patriotism in its best sense, taking hold of a precious out-of- uniform opportunity to pay some of your debt. As Dick Lamm once said, “We are trying to go beyond being Good Citizens, and be also Good Ancestors.”

 * * *

Most of our energies over these years have gone toward a critique of the mass immigration regime regrettably legitimated in 1965. We were obliged to speak more about what we were against—that half-illegal and badly flawed immigration system in place—than about what we were for. It is my hope that this book has introduced readers to an admirable cohort of re-thinkers and reformers, who have thought deeply about the design and purpose of America’s reformed new immigration policy in our vastly changed domestic and global circumstances.

No one to my knowledge has suggested an appealing label for the reformed immigration regime we seek. There is an appealing (to me) movement for Slow Food, and Slow Cities, and even Slow Medicine. Slow Immigration?

* * *

The movement now needs a political leadership that Ross Perot and Pete Wilson could not (for different reasons) give it in the 1990s, nor Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter in their runs for the presidency in 2007-2008.

There are constituencies across the left-center-right spectrum for a reduced immigration regime—one that aims at zero-sum or replacement immigration to make possible the goals of environmentalists and energy de-carbonizers; a flow cut down in size so as to pose little labor market competition inside the American workplace; a flow small enough to facilitate assimilation and national security monitoring; and an immigration stream that is entirely legal, bringing firmly to an end the deeply corrupting flaunting of law and the loathsome criminal importation of the foreign and underground component of our two-tiered population.

These components must be politically held together by a vision that other nations might one day adopt, when we offer to the world a model of an appropriately-sized population with altered lifestyles, passing on a sustainable ecology and economy to our posterity. Essential to this vision is public recognition that, whatever your cause, it’s a lost cause without population stabilization at sustainable levels. This means a return to small immigration, for our foreseeable future.

The politics of this are there to be pulled together by a leader of superb educational gifts, as Theodore Roosevelt, with the help of a mobilized citizenry, thrust a new crusade, conservation, to the foreground a century ago. Another President Roosevelt gave a new reform vision and national goal a name when campaigning in 1932. The “New Deal,” you anticipate? That is the label the press fastened upon FDR’s plans, and he was happy with the label. But in another speech that same year he spoke from his environmentalist convictions, calling for changes aimed at the realization of “a Permanent Country.” That is a national goal that must replace endless growth, requiring an immigration policy that forwards that goal rather than driving it out of reach.

And in New York harbor a re-named monument: Sustainability, Enlightening the World.

Otis L. Graham, Jr

Professor Emeritus of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author or editor of more than fifteen books, including “Debating American Immigration, 1882-Present” (with Roger Daniels) and “Environment Politics and Policy, 1960s to 1990s”. He lives in Santa Barbara, CA.

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