Immigration Is U.S.


You can sing about sea to shining sea or amber waves of grain, but it's immigration that provides America's basic rhythm. Nothing distinguishes the American experience from that of other nations more than the mass migration of people from elsewhere to here. We are truly a nation of immigrants: Close to 90% of the population--excluding Native Americans and those who were forced here in shackles--moved here out of their own volition.

Not that this has made things any easier for immigrants. In the 1850s the nativist Native American Party--reacting to a wave of Irish Catholic and German immigrants--declared that America faced "an imminent peril" from immigrants "of an ignorant and immoral character." California in the late 19th century tried to ban Asian immigration and land ownership. In 1924 immigration from everywhere outside northern Europe was severely restricted.

The current wave of immigration, largely from Asia and Latin America, has once again sparked nativist fears. (Witness Arizona's recent, harsh immigration law.) Yet America needs immigrants now more than ever. The U.S., like virtually all advanced countries, produces insufficient native-born children to prevent it from becoming a granny nation-state by 2050.

Only immigration can provide the labor force, the expanding domestic markets and, perhaps most important, the youthful energy to keep our society vital and growing. Many bustling sections of American cities--the revived communities along the number 7 train line in Queens, N.Y., Houston's Harwin Corridor, Los Angeles' San Gabriel Valley--are dominated by immigrant enterprise. In contrast, the cities without large-scale immigration, such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, have stagnant and even declining populations.

In the future successful immigration will distinguish America from most key competitors. Globally, resistance to immigration or any form of linguistic, religious or ethnic diversity has become more commonplace. Over the past few decades Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Indonesia and the nations of the former East Bloc have constricted their concept of national identity. In Malaysia, East Africa and even the province of Quebec preferential policies have led successful minorities such as Jews, Armenians, Coptic Christians Indians and Chinese to find homes in more welcoming places, often in the U.S.

In recent decades Europe has received as many immigrants as the U.S., but it has proved far less able to absorb them. The roughly 20 million Muslims who live in Europe remain marginalized. In Europe, notably in France, unemployment among immigrants--particularly those from Muslim countries--is often at least twice that of the native born; in Britain as well Muslims are far more likely to be out of the workforce than either Christians or Hindus.

But in the U.S. immigrant workers with lower educations are more likely to be in the workforce than their nonimmigrant counterparts. And most American Muslims are comfortably middle class, with income and education levels above the national average. The newly crowned Miss America is from a Detroit-area Shiite immigrant family from southern Lebanon.

Our 21st-century economy will be shaped in large part by these immigrants and their descendants. Much is made of the movement of poor, largely uneducated immigrants from south of the border, but more than half of all skilled immigrants in the world come to the U.S., too. Even with its slow-growing population, Europe continues to be a major source of American immigrants, particularly skilled workers. By 2004 some 400,000 E.U. science and technology graduates were residing in the U.S. Barely one in seven, according to a European Commission poll, intends to return to their home continent.

Of course, the majority of the nation's immigrants, both undocumented and legal, come from developing countries: China, India, Mexico, the Philippines and the Middle East. Since roughly four in five immigrants come from nonwhite countries, by 2039, due largely to immigrants and their offspring, the majority of working-age Americans will be "minorities."

Even if immigration slows down dramatically, particularly with a weak economy, these groups will grow in significance as we approach mid-century. In 2000 one in five American children were already the progeny of immigrants; by 2015 they will make up as much as one-third of American kids. Many demographers predict that by 2050 non-Hispanic whites will be in the minority. America's racial and ethnic dye is already cast, and permanently shaped, by immigration.

By embracing, and being embraced by, immigrants, America follows the path of history's most successful civilizations. The Roman civilization, which started in a tribal city-state, gradually opened citizenship to all Italians, and by the third century made citizenship available to free men throughout the "multi-nationed" empire; less than half the Senate came from Italy. "Rome," wrote a Greek writer in the second century, "is a citadel which has all the peoples of the earth as its villagers."

In this sense the American model of immigration and ethnic integration, for all its many flaws, forms a critical pillar for the nation's future global leadership. Even those who return home will retain strong familial and business ties to the U.S. They will confirm America's unique status as the world's one great global civilization.

This article originally appeared in

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and is a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University. He is author of The City: A Global History. His newest book is The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, released in Febuary, 2010.

Photo by telwink

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Wait you don't want to use

Wait you don't want to use Rome, which existed for over 1000 years, was a world power unlike anything the ancient world have ever seen, and whose culture became the foundation for western culture in general? That is somehow a bad example for us to follow? The founding fathers disagree with you, our very government was created in the mold of ancient Rome.
Bill Metin2

The United States does the

The United States does the same thing, and, I think it would be fair to say, more generously than any other country in the world. The issue at hand here is "legal" versus "illegal" immigration. The United States is not the country it was in 1850, and our government, its activities and the expansion of what it provides directly to the citizen would be unrecognizable to Americans of that day egipt last minute.

Islam = Trojan Horse

While immigration of economically valuable people is usually good for a country, they must be assimilable into society without undermining its basic principles. Too bad, with Islam from day one it's been all about total supremacy, of Muslims over non-Muslims, and men over women, with a mindset that an omnipotent God has spoken only to their Prophet, who now rules from the grave via an infallible book, and all non-believers are not only wrong but enemies of their God, hence mere insults to Islam are treated with death. Therefore, permitting mass Muslim immigration is like rolling a Trojan Horse into the walls. In this shrinking world, this insane intolerant supremacist ideology must go, it really must go, and all Westerners need to unite to oppose it in all shapes and forms, and stop mass Muslim immigration.

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T.L. Winslow (TLW), "The Historyscoper" (tm)

A bit wishful

This article appears to take a simplistic view of "immigration," the first problem being the careless use of the word itself. People migrate to countries all around the world, and are accepted to their respective places according to local citizenship rules. These rules stem from what the local people consider a well-ordered society. The United States does the same thing, and, I think it would be fair to say, more generously than any other country in the world. The issue at hand here is "legal" versus "illegal" immigration. The United States is not the country it was in 1850, and our government, its activities and the expansion of what it provides directly to the citizen would be unrecognizable to Americans of that day. Virtually everything is regulated, and, importantly, subsidized in one way or another. Immigration is part of that complex system, which also includes public education, public health, public safety, social welfare, social justice and so on. Mr. Kotkin worries that existing citizens don't reproduce rapidly enough. Taking the state of the system as it is, does it follow that the problem is answered by the helter-skelter movement of peoples with unknown education, skills, health issues, etc. into the country to simply breed? And then what? Wish them a good education? Wave a wand and change their skills? Click our heels three times and prevent their exploitation by short-sighted employers? Uncontrolled migration is a fine Libertarian ideal, but it is far, far from feasible without a top to bottom transformation of the regulated modern society. Immigration is a problem of regulation and enforcement, of "legal" and "illegal," and a product of the rent-seeking relationship between business and government. Can one just tease out one component of the economy and expect the rest to somehow fall in line?

Ulterior motives

The sudden rise of the immigration debate, like some of the issues raised during the health care bill, seem more designed to set the lower middle class on edge against an easy target - the class immediately underneath them.

Those who work very hard for very little money naturally see immigrants as enemies - and are thus susceptible to the right's call for harsher immigration laws.

It is too easy to keep the lower middle class distracted, so their anger is not directed at the real robber barons of the our own new millenium Gilded Age.

Richard Reep, M. Arch.
Winter Park, FL