The immigration debate and preserving American identity

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Leon Hadar has penned an interesting piece over at TAC, arguing that the “immigration debate should be about language and culture more than jobs—and not just race.” You should read the whole thing, but here are a few thoughts in response.

First, I’m interested in what seems to be a sentimental attachment to the English language. It makes sense to me that a nation ought to have a dominant language (for the sake of simplicity and order — and as a uniting force of commonality). And make no mistake, English is our language. But is it objectively better than, say, French?

Or is it arbitrary? In my book, it is the beliefs, ideas, institutions, and traditions expressed via language that matter most.

That, of course, is a dorm room debate. Now, on to a slightly less theoretical point. In making the case for “a system that opens America’s doors to immigrants who can make America more productive and want to help preserve and strengthen its historical and cultural identity,” Hadar writes this:

“[I]f one of the Founding Fathers had landed in contemporary America, with whom would he be able to conduct an intelligent conversation: your average Valley Girl or a daughter of immigrants from India? And let’s not forget that the Supreme Court consists today of Catholics and Jews.”

This is a point I’ve long struggled to express. Among populist conservatives, there tends to be a reflexive desire to favor current citizens over immigrants. This is an understandable and logical impulse, of course, but it’s also true that many of the Americans I’ve known in my life have also been white rednecks who contribute nothing to society, and, in fact, are takers.

When I compare that to Freddie the Honduran immigrant I worked with at a pizzeria in Frederick, Maryland, I have no doubt who’d make the better American, or even who is the better conservative.

Hadar continues,

“My personal feeling, based on anecdotal evidence collected during a trip around the country, is that much of the criticism among Americans over immigration reflects fears over the loss of national-cultural identity, as manifested in forms of bilingualism, and is driven by the perception that many Hispanics cannot or don’t want to assimilate into the American community. I rarely hear complaints about immigrants “stealing״ American jobs.”


It’s easy to play on fears and to demagogue the “they’re coming to take our jobs!” argument, which is probably why it is so often rhetorically enlisted.  What is more, it’s a bipartisan lament. But I suspect much of the angst about immigration reform really has to do with a deeper fear regarding the loss of identity. And this is not an easily dismissed concern. It’s a legitimate concern.

We are a nation of immigrants, but traditional conservatives who worry about preserving western values, traditions, and institutions must necessarily concern themselves with the preservation of culture. As such, it is vital that new immigrants be assimilated. This is not racist or xenophobic or even greedy. We are stewards of western society and of The American Dream.

Matt K. Lewis