We haven’t heard much about assimilation of immigrants lately. If that seems odd, there is a reason for the silence.
There is no “assimilation debate” because assimilation as a policy goal of our civic culture has already been abandoned.
The new watchword is “integration.” The integration of immigrants has replaced assimilation in the lexicon of not only the United States government but the private-sector institutions dealing with immigration.
Of course, this multiculturalist subversion of our civic vocabulary can be seen in other areas of public life as well. For example, the left has been advancing a new, much narrower meaning for the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Under the imperatives of Obamacare, freedom of religion now means only freedom of worship, and many religious leaders have accepted this constriction. They may wake up when their churches begin receiving their first property tax bills.
Yet, this makeover is not something that was started by the Obama administration. It has been under way for more than a decade, promoted by first multiculturalists in the universities, followed by foundations and immigration attorneys. The process went unnoticed because good citizens and patriots were asleep at the wheel.
Since hardly anyone has been paying attention, the renaming and repackaging of assimilation was accomplished without controversy. The few measurements and indicators for the progress of assimilation were converted into easier measurements for successful “integration.”
No one protested this amazingly seamless transition, and no one has protested that the standards for the successful “integration” of immigrants into American society are very different from the old standards for measuring the success of assimilation. The result is that today, it is nearly impossible to question the status or success of assimilation.
The difference is real, and the difference affects more than the success of immigrants: It affects the health and success of our nation. We no longer judge ourselves by the fulfillment of “E Pluribus Unum” – from many, one. If we listen to our elites, we are now happy being many cultures instead of one culture.
Why was assimilation abandoned in favor of integration? And why does it matter?
Assimilation has been ruled out of fashion and slowly banished from officialdom because it implies and expects an accommodation by immigrants to a dominant host culture, an accommodation that takes the form of adoption of the language and civic values and norms of the host nation. But to the partisans of multiculturalism, our new cultural orthodoxy, such accommodations are no longer necessary; in fact, they are undesirable relics of our racist, xenophobic past.
A concrete example of the difference between assimilation and integration is the change in the federal government’s enforcement of the non-dependency laws for immigrants. It used to be that every legal immigrant required a U.S. citizen “sponsor” who was obligated to guarantee that the immigrant would not become a “public charge” during the first five years of his immigration status. Today, although the “public charge” law is still on the books, it is no longer enforced.
Or, let’s take the most elementary traditional measurement of successful assimilation, the expectation of attaining proficiency in English. The evidence of our declining ability to converse in a common language is all around us. Even the English language skills required for passing the Naturalization exam have been watered down. Very likely, the English language requirement for citizenship soon will be abandoned altogether: After all, it makes little sense if you can even cast your vote for mayor or president in a foreign language.
Even if a naturalized immigrant can’t follow presidential debates unless they are translated into the native language, he is still considered “fully integrated” by the mere act of voting, which is facilitated by federal mandates for multi-lingual ballots. He is also fully integrated if he is participating “equally” in our social welfare system – a fully “integrated” participant in our new culture of dependency.
So, how well is this new emphasis on “social integration” working out? In a recent survey by the Pew Research Hispanic Center, over half of young Hispanics (under age 40) declined to identify themselves as Americans, not even hyphenated Americans. This included not only recent immigrants but second and third generation native-born Hispanics as well.
Two statistics illustrate that this problem goes far deeper than the political issue of citizenship for illegal aliens.
- Among people who are already eligible for citizenship under current law, over the past decade fewer than half actually applied for the naturalization process within five years of their eligibility.
- And what is the nationality with the lowest application rate for citizenship? Among the 10 largest national groups, persons born in Mexico have the least interest in becoming American citizens.
That’s progress in the new culture of diversity. You don’t need to be a citizen to be “fully integrated” into American society. In fact, you don’t really need to be an American. Indeed, it’s more than that: In our public schools, American youth are now discouraged from adopting American cultural values. In the new orthodoxy, assimilation is not only bad for immigrants, it’s bad for children as well.