Immigration: Problems, Perils, Profits

By Sy Schechtman

Even in my more mature years, having changed my stance on many an important issue and position I am still proud of my years as a Latin "scholar". That is, I remember quite a few words that have Latin roots in our rather convoluted but essentially beautiful English language. I remember, too, some proverbs whose original Latin I will not bother you with, such as "Love conquers all", "Make haste slowly", "I came, I saw, I conquered."...etc. However, "E Pluribus, Unum" was-- (is?) the cornerstone of our socio-political philosophy. And after a few years, many years ago, in the academic vineyards of Latin-through Caesar, Cicero, Plautus, at least- I can still offer you the reliable translation of "Out of many, One" for this once very popular American credo. The assimilationist dream, the Melting Pot, the "Americanization". of our varying and diverse citizenry. Instead of this hypothetical unity we now seem to be celebrating our society five racial divisions to about over 60 differing ethnic groups that now live in our country, and seem to prize their original country of birth and the different and perhaps quaint life style it represented.

Not to worry say many eminent sociologists and social critics. Immigration is the life blood of our country, and the new ethnic minorities that have recently come on board face the same hurdles of non acceptance that prejudice fifty years or so ago shackled white immigrants from Europe. The pejorative labels then applied shriveled the new groups psychologically. The Jews were the kikes, or sheenies, the Irish the micks, the Germans the krauts, the Italians the wops, or guineas, etc. The term "Swede" generally depicted a slow moving blond, tall man of only mild intelligence, and the description of the typical "Polack" was really some offensive joke about his total lack of intelligence. Catholics in general had a tough road to hoe in what was then still a prevailing Wasp culture. And Jews had to invent ways to succeed because many business routes and residential areas were closed to them. "No Jews or dogs allowed" was a sign that confronted them frequently. And, lo!, several generations later two wondrous things happened--- they all became loyal and proud Americans, and they all gained acceptance among their peers as good neighbors and good citizens. They assimilated or at least acculturated very comfortably. Some are in the very affluent class, many make up our thriving and aspiring middle class and some are somewhat left behind in poverty, genteel or worse.

Will this relatively happy melding picture be repeated again with todays And many with multi racial backgrounds--about 6,800,000--some but not a majority, list white as their preferred racial designation. Some hopeful assimilationists stress three basics for continued success in this increasingly skewed ethnic mix. First, immigrant families should adopt English as their language. Second, they must take pride in their American identity and the country Lastly to embrace what we call the Protestant ethic--"to be self-reliant, hardworking, and morally upright."

The prime negative to immigration in general is the rate and kind of population growth we have been experiencing. We have always been an immigrant nation and have been prime beneficiaries of the invigorating infusion hopeful newcomers bring to our shores. But there is concern about the immigration mix now entering. Also the number of illegal aliens entering from Mexico. Census figures seem to show that about 6 million illegal aliens entered our country in the last 10 years. A proverbial but generally valid saying is that a "nation that can not control its borders can not control its destiny".

Bilingual education is one prime irritant in the complex immigration mix. In the last 35 years or so this concept made its entry and has grown like a noxious weed. Before this young children were simply placed with virgin exposure in the English language into the school level class of their age. With implicit faith that they had innate language receptors to overcome the formidable barrier to communication that a strange language was. This total immersion--both in school and at play afterwards, and American TV--overcame the native language baggage rather quickly for the kids. Their parents may have lagged behind, not having this total exposure throughout their daily lives that their children had. Or at least this was the common, proven path with the prior generations of immigrants that this immigration rich country had successfully assimilated. This time, however----in the last 40 years or so, with the large multicultural mix perhaps, it was decided that easing the child into the English language mainstream was more humane and less stressful. And this despite the proven track record of the previous direct immersion method. And the general acceptance by now of Noam Chomskylanguage axiom that children are born with a universal language template, making them receptive in their formative years to accept linguistically whatever language they were exposed to. They were ready language absorbers--proverbial sponges, in fact, of the language in the air around them. And so we are desperately enmeshed now in bilingual education at great cost to the taxpayer and great detriment to the student, and corresponding enrichment of a whole corps of teachers, who may lose their jobs if we go back to the proven path of prior years.

Affirmative action figures into the dubious side of the immigration equation, too. Giving minorities preference in certain aspects of jobs and educational placements has had dubious results. No doubt it has helped the underprivileged at the expense of more advantaged people. But where merit is not considered and the a less intelligent person is placed because of the need for diversity , an inevitable "dumbing down" of our whole productive process occurs. Resentment and uneasiness are the twin by products of this misguided approach. The placed person may feel guilty and inadequate and the displaced person vindictive.

And, of course, there are long range constraints on population growth that is supportable. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates population growth, fueled by immigration, will reach 404 million by 2050 and 571 million by 2100. More than double our current population. Post year 2000 immigration will be responsible for two thirds of that explosive growth. Without immigration, says the census bureau, the population would rise to 377 million, instead of 571 million. By the end of the century Many years ago we worried about feeding too many hungry mouths world wide. Famous Malthusian gloom about food scarcity filled us all with sad thoughts, which soon turned to jeering laughter at these doom and gloomsters as we learned that through advanced technology, and sophisticated bioagribusiness that we could literally feed the world. But for every gain there can also be an impeding or even paralyzing downside. It takes energy to replace the human or brute beast effort in this seemingly miraculous process of eliminating hunger and famine worldwide. And as of now fossil fuels are the substrate that is turned into the needed electrical power that is our magic wand which makes everything now almost an earthly material paradise. And these fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide which is gradually causing the temperature to rise most of us think. Many ecologists think that we see current alarming evidence of this now with some melting of ice caps in polar regions and on some mountain tops. Alarming scenarios of rising coastal waters inundating present shorelines many miles deep are projected. Even if these are only alarmist environmental extremists projecting unfounded future woes the fact is obvious that large increases in population will require much more energy production to take care of the increased needs of the burgeoning population. If fossil fuels are our only answer to supply the power needed some amount of global warming is no doubt unavoidable. Perhaps the degree of increase may not be critical and well tolerated by our ever resilient planet that has always tolerated our environmental depredations to date. But that may be too hopeful a stretch of reality into fantasy. In the wings, of course, is a cleaned up and more respectable nuclear energy magic wand, already well behaved and very productive in France, Japan and other areas. But still the problems of where you bury the wastes and not worry about the ultimate pollution--radioactive waste contamination of the planet-- is still far from understood.

Undoubtedly immigration has been a strong plus in the development of this nation. But some surcease is needed to allow for proper absorption of the current annual inflow, about one million strong. We at all costs want to avoid another Quebec in our midst, a totally unassimilated political entity dagger in the midst of Canada. While we might enjoy and even celebrate diversity at some level, the concept of "Out of Many One" is still the driving force that made us the greatest nation in the world. Or equally famous --- "One nation, indivisible, under God." We must remember that we became historynation in the history of the world because since the creation of our blessed country people have constantly "voted with their feet" to immigrate here. Because never have they had so much opportunity for "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness". And we must remember, too, that the people up until now who made all this possible were a small group of earnest, idealistic, yet realistic white, Protestant or Deist males who, also being human and fallible committed many missteps and hypocritical backslidings, especially against black slaves, who were considered property at the beginning of our republic, and only grudgingly were given full citizenship many years later. And against all fellow citizens who only over time were given the precious power to vote, which was first restricted to property owners.

But besides E Pluribus Unum we must make haste slowly --Festa Lente -- so as to reach our goal of the brotherhood of man with the great racial and etnic pallette that we now have, thus melding all of us into a more cohesive "oneness" once again, with as much compassion as feasible, to avoid as much injustice and hardship as possible. Our shores will still be open as a beacon of asylum for the oppressed and the "wretched refuse" (Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty) of other countries but the pace of current immigration should be reduced and with more emphasis on skills as well as family ties in filling entry quotas.