The issue isn’t really legalization, it’s assimilation.
As Washington and the nation’s talk-show hosts wet themselves over “immigration reform,” no one seems to be grasping the fact that the things they are discussing – from border security to green cards and citizenship – are short-term and ultimately meaningless details.
Don’t get me wrong. I know what “illegal” means. For 15 years I’ve been saying that the cure for illegal immigration was a one-way bus ticket south.
It’s your dream, but it’s my country, so get the hell out.
That, however, is a topic for today. The issue with illegal immigration is an issue for generations.
Let me explain what I mean.
Either illegal aliens currently in the country will be given a pathway to citizenship, or they will be held in some sort of status short of citizenship.
Ultimately, except to them, it doesn’t make any difference.
That’s because time passes. And the passage of time will change this from a political issue to a cultural issue.
Today’s illegal aliens are tomorrow’s parents and grandparents – of rising generations of American citizens. The children of illegals are born American, and so would be their descendants in perpetuity, as long as they stay in the United States.
So the government either gives these families citizenship today, or nature will do it in a generation.
Which makes the details of policy not all that relevant.
The issue isn’t whether these families should become American – they ultimately will – the issue is what sort of Americans they will become.
That’s the issue upon which the future of this country hangs.
Overwhelmingly, illegal aliens today are from Latin America. The lion’s share of them are from Mexico. However they got here, their American experience is relatively new, and in the process of being defined.
That definition is crucially important.
I would contrast the social experiences of two American heritage groups – folks from Africa, and folks from Italy. In general terms – with countless exceptions for individuality – these two groups experience different rates of success in contemporary American culture.
People of Italian heritage are the descendants of a great immigration that began about 100 years ago. People with a strange language, a minority religion, a Mediterranean complexion and unique culture and foods.
Italians came to America and plunged into the mainstream culture. They learned American ways and championed American values. They married the rich tradition of their homeland with a keen desire to succeed in America and within a generation were the mainstream. In many ways, they have been one of America’s most indispensable peoples.
The Italian immigration experience left Italian families and the United States much better off. It was a win for individuals and the country.
On average, people whose heritage came from Africa have been markedly less successful. Instead of becoming part of the mainstream, some black people see themselves in this society as an aggrieved minority. They feel oppressed and resentful of the larger society, as opposed to feeling that they are a part of it.
Again, these are generalities.
One group is in the mainstream, largely. The other is outside the mainstream, largely.
Some of that is probably ascribable to skin color. But at least some of it is also a consequence of group self-perception. In one culture, success is expected and found. In the other, victimhood is anticipated and realized.
And, on average, there are very different outcomes as a consequence – for individuals, families, the group and the society.
Which gets us back to the illegals.
The future of America won’t be determined by who get a green card when, it will be determined by the self-perception of the illegals.
As they stop being illegals, and become functionally just one more culturally specific immigration spike in our history, much will be determined by whether they see themselves in the mainstream or as an aggrieved minority.
Unfortunately, the driving philosophy of one of our political parties is to tell these newcomers that they are oppressed, that they out outside the mainstream. That party seizes and holds power on the anger of entitlement and disenfranchisement. It has a political interest in promoting and encouraging a sense of disenfranchisement.
And it is working hard to define these new Latino immigrants along the lines of their partisan self-serving ambitions.
So a battle is being waged, or should be being waged. On one side, an effort to pull newly arrived Latinos into the permanent underclass, dependent and angry. On the other side, an effort to coax these same folks into the cultural and economic mainstream, with its sacrifices and rewards.
Like I said, much rides on which way the Latinos predominantly go.
If they cluster together as an aggrieved minority, they and our society are in grave danger. If they claw their way into the successful mainstream – as Italians did three generations before them – they and our society will be dramatically benefited.
It’s not the legal status of these new arrivals, it’s whether their children and grandchildren will save or doom America.
Will they become part of the backbone, or part of the deadweight?
It’s not legalization, it’s assimilation.
The key is helping these new arrivals to become self-reliant, productive, successful Americans – not by grabbing hold of a government program, but by adopting and living the hard-working values necessary to succeed.
We cannot survive the creation of another large segment of society with a disproportional tendency to fail socially and economically. But if we can grow the hard-working, law-abiding educated middle class, if these new Latinos can follow the example of dozens of peoples who have come before, America will be much better for their presence.
That’s the issue.
And nobody is talking about that.