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October 05, 2010

The Old "Nation of Immigrants" Trick, Eh?

2nd time I fell for that this week!

A silly little throwaway column appeared in the Boston Globe today. That's not unusual, nor is it unusual that I disagreed with pretty much everything in the column. What's not quite as common, though, was that I only got as far as the title of this particular piece before it had triggered one of my pet peeves.

The offending title? It is: "A nation of immigrants must include Muslims."

This is based on the old canard that because the nation was founded by immigrants and continued to welcome large influxes of immigrants through its first 130 years, we must continue to honor that same ethic today. So even though the Constitution is considered by these sorts of folk to be a "living document," our immigration policy must never change.

Well, I'm here to tell you that times do change, and that in this case they changed a long, long time ago. In fact, the notion that we are a "Nation of Immigrants" was, until relatively recently, an antiquity. A few years ago I wrote a post where I plotted up the number of foreign-born residents over the past 100 years:


The plot below shows the number of foreign-born people residing in the US (click on the graph for a better view). This includes both legal and illegal residents. As you can see, the total number of foreign-born residents stayed fairly constant from 1910 to 1970, even as the population of the US doubled. The foreign-born percentage of the total population dropped to just under 5% by 1970.

Foreign-Born Population.jpg

Today we have a foreign-born population of about 15%, which I would guess is a little high for easy assimilation. But the point is, until Ted Kennedy pushed the Immigration Act through back in 1965, we were not at all a "Nation of Immigrants." We were a nation of Americans, 95% of whom were born and raised right here.

So the Boston Globe article is based on a faulty premise - that the outmoded concept of "give me your tired, your poor" is somehow a compelling motivation for modern immigration policy.

But there's plenty more to hate about the article. Check this out:

But a couple of millennia on, if there is anything to the concept of American exceptionalism, it is that, more than any country, “America is bound to become the first new global society made up of all world religions and civilizations,’’ as Professor Jose Casanova put it. Out of many, one.
Really? The most important part of American exceptionalism is that we drop everything American in favor of all the world's religions and civilizations? Doesn't sound very American at all. Our exceptionalism has nothing to do with our form of government? Our value system? Our morals? Our culture?

Seems like American exceptionalism is being judged solely by its similarity to the UN.

I'm going to stop picking at this pinheaded article, because, while ripe for the pickings, it's not worth a full fisking. Well, I'll stop after this one:

Casanova compared the hostility toward Muslims to the hostility toward Catholics from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. A wave of Catholic immigration unsettled the dominant Protestant establishment.
Because it all worked out in the case of the Catholics, the op-ed suggests that we should cut Muslims some slack. I could argue about the significance of his handful of examples of alienation of Muslims (it's not), I could argue about the differences between the religions (they're huge), and I could argue about how badly Muslims are being treated (they're not), but I'll just say this:

Fine. We'll get it all worked out over the next 100 years, just like we did with the Catholics. Hope you weren't in a hurry.

digg this
posted by Geoff at 08:22 AM

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