Immigration and America’s narrow viewpoint and history

Public opinion polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans support the DACA program. But many of those same people also want legal immigration reform.

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An estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States currently have no path to legal status or citizenship. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

WASHINGTON, September 7, 2016 ⏤ In early September, the Trump administration announced the end of the DACA program, which provided temporary relief from the threat of deportation to young immigrants brought to this country illegally as children.

The change will not take effect for six months, giving Congress a chance to fix it. House Speaker Paul Ryan has promised legislation to do just that and has told the “dreamers” to “rest easy.” President Trump himself seems to have mixed feelings. He told the dreamers that he “loves them” and will revisit the issue if Congress does not act. In response to a message from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, he told dreamers not to worry.

People covered by DACA, who number approximately 800,000, were brought to the U.S. as children, speak English, and know no other country.

They must have a nearly spotless record to be eligible for the program. They do not receive legal status, only a two-year renewable deferral of deportation along with a work permit.  Forty-five percent of those covered are attending school, while those in the workforce have seen their wages rise from an average of $10.29 per hour to $17.46.


Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reports,

“In 2014, the Defense Department began to allow a small subset of DACA recipients with specialized skills to enter the military, following in the tradition of thousands of non-citizens who have stood up and said they are willing to fight and die for our country. Today, there are several hundred DACA recipients in the Army; if DACA is ended, these soldiers could face immediate deportation.”

Paneta, the son of Italian immigrants, recalls,

“My parents came to the United States because they believed they could give their children a better life in this country. This is the American Dream. I had the privilege of living that dream. It is our responsibility to let dreamers live the American Dream as well. That is the value that makes our country free, secure and strong for all, our people.”

Public opinion polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans support the DACA program. Even its critics have failed to explain how our country would gain by deporting 800,000 young people, nearly all of them in school, college, the military or the workforce. Tens of thousands of them are working toward bachelor’s degrees or higher. Most own cars and pay taxes. Many have bought homes and thousands have started businesses.

Attorney General Sessions claims that the dreamers take jobs from Americans, but the unemployment rate has dropped dramatically in the five years since the program was initiated. More than 300 executives of our largest corporations have urged that the DACA program continue.

Its economic logic and good sense are clear.

We are a nation of immigrants, and our dynamism as a society can be attributed to the welcome we have given to men and women of every race and nation. Conservative columnist Bret Stephens notes,

“Take Portugal, a once-great country. Today, one in five Portuguese citizens, two million in all, live abroad. Since 2008, the Portuguese economy has shriveled by 4%. The U.S. provides the opposite example. The American economy is 12 per cent larger today than it was at the time of the financial crisis. We’re also taking in roughly half a million legal new arrivals a year. The foot-voting continues, and we’re still coming out on top. As for Nobelists … Americans have won 40 per cent of all Nobel Prizes ever awarded⏤and immigrants accounted for 35 per cent of those winners … Google, Comcast, eBay, Kraft, Pfizer, AT&T. They all had immigrants as founders.”

Not to understand what makes America unique in the world is perhaps the largest failing of those who promote nativism and fear of immigrants. America, even though they may not know it, is more than simply another country. Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that 18 languages were spoken in this town of 8,000 people.

In his “Letters From An American Farmer,” J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782:

“Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes to the world.”

The U.S. has been ethnically diverse from the very beginning. By the time of the first census in 1790, people of English origin were already a slight minority. Enslaved Africans and their American-born descendants made up 20 percent of the population, and there were large clusters of Scotch-Irish, Scottish, German and Dutch settlers, and smaller numbers of Swedes, Finns, Huguenots and Sephardic Jews.

Today, America is still in the process of becoming, with immigrants attracted to.our shores from.countries around the world. In 1904, the British author Israel Zangwill wrote a now famous passage, as relevant to our new immigrants as to those of more than a hundred years earlier:

“America is God’s Crucible, the Great Melting Pot where all the races of Europe are reforming. Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your 50 groups and your 50 languages and histories and your 50 blood-hatreds and rivalries. But you won’t long be like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to⏤these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas.  Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishman. Jews and Russians. Into the Crucible with you all. God is making the American.”

In 1866. Lord Acton, the British Liberal leader, said that America was becoming the “distant magnet.”

Consider what has attracted men and women to our country over the years. The age in which Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Mason worked to achieve passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, a forerunner to the First Amendment and the idea of separation of church and state, was one in which Catholics and Protestants were still killing one another in Europe. Even today, religious strife divides men and women in Lebanon, India, Israel, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and many other parts of the world. In America, from the beginning, people could practice their religions freely.

Those of us who are American by birth often forget how remarkable the American idea of nationality really is. It is a nationality not based on common race or ethnic origin or religion but, instead, upon a commitment to live in a free society and fulfill its responsibilities.  Americans come, as they always have, in every size and shape, color and faith.

As Kurt Weil, the lyricist who was forced to flee Nazi  Germany, declared: “Every name is an American name.”

America is unique in the world because, in the end, it has rejected the narrow views of those would make us ordinary. In the 19th century, the Know Nothings led a campaign against Catholic immigrants, fearing that opening our doors to Italians, Poles and Irish would put the Pope in charge. Later, groups like the Klan led the campaign against Catholic and Jewish immigrants. For many years immigrants from Asia were excluded.

It is ironic that at the modern children and grandchildren of immigrants want to close the door to others.

They represent a small but vocal minority and, hopefully, will go the way of others who promoted such a  nativist creed.

When President Obama introduced DACA, he understood it was a temporary measure. He said:

“Let’s be clear: This is not amnesty. this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”

With most Americans in support of DACA, and both Republican and Democratic leaders indicating that they want to resolve this question, and President Trump himself telling dreamers not to “worry,” it seems likely that a positive outcome lies ahead. If it somehow fails, it will indicate that our political, system is even more dysfunctional than it appears.

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.