When it comes to assimilating immigrants, the Obama administration appears to have drawn a line under the day the president first took office and forgotten much that came before it. That’s a pity, as the country had learned a thing or two about acculturating immigrants since the first German Mennonites and Pietists settled in colonial Pennsylvania in the 1680s and ’90s.
Oh, and the word “assimilation” is gone from the vocabulary—or at least from a 23,000-word strategy plan by the White House Task Force on New Americans.
That report, “Strengthening Communities by Welcoming All Residents: A Federal Strategic Action Plan on Immigrant & Refugee Integration,” published earlier this month, also eschews such words as “patriotism” and “Americanization.” E Pluribus Unum, both in spirit and in word, also fails to make the cut.
And this, mind you, is a strategy for how to make “New Americans.”
What it seems to have plenty of is how communities must be the ones to change so they can celebrate immigrants’ “diverse linguistic and cultural assets”; how governing institutions must sanction “diverse cultural practices”; how becoming a citizen should be streamlined; and how we must have “bi-literacy and dual-language learning” so as “to maintain native-language proficiency to preserve culture.”
Given all this, the Heritage Foundation today advises that Congress scrutinize the president’s strategy for how to integrate immigrants into our unique national culture.
The need for such scrutiny is all the more apparent when one considers that President Obama told journalist Ezra Klein in January that as the U.S. becomes “more and more a hodgepodge of folks,” it will become harder for conservatives to promote their policies. Is the president is trying to enlist immigrants to, as he once admitted was his goal, “fundamentally transform” the United States?
Immigration has been part of this country since those first German dissenters flocked to William Penn’s Quaker colony, and German, Scots-Irish and French went to New York, in the late 17th century. America has been called a “nation of immigrants” because from these beginnings, different surges of people — mostly from Europe but also from Asia and Latin America — have settled different geographic parts of the country.
Diversity, in fact, is nothing new in America. New York was “diverse” from the moment the English took the former New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664. The English didn’t just have to contend with the Dutch: Isaac Jogues, a French Jesuit who visited New Amsterdam back in 1643, had already remarked that 18 languages were spoken on its streets.
Diversity continued as waves of Scots-Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, East European Jews, Poles, Cubans, Greeks, Puerto Ricans, and many more settled all over the country as immigrants, and through the acquisition not just of New York from the Dutch but Louisiana and swaths of the Midwest from the French and Florida and the Southwest from Spain and Mexico.
So it isn’t new that America is “a hodgepodge of folks.” That “anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American,” was celebrated by Ronald Reagan as one of the features that American exceptional.
What is new is our government trying to make our differences permanent, deepening societal cleavages. The federal role in preserving cultural separateness, as outlined in the strategy, and then apportioning the participation of each group in the labor market, schools admissions, contracts, etc., is what “diversity” has come to mean in recent years.
It is not just new, but it runs counter to everything America’s leaders from the Founders through Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Kennedy and Reagan desired. They understood that, this being a nation of immigrants, to remain a constitutional republic meant that immigrants and their children had acquire the habits required for self-government.
In Washington’s words, immigrants should “get assimilated to our customs, measures and laws: in a word, soon become one people.” As President Kennedy’s one-time special assistant, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., once warned, “the multicultural dogma abandons historic purposes” and leads to disintegration.
President Obama announced his Task Force the day after he overreached his executive powers to give millions of illegal immigrants reprieve from deportation. Given this record, and the strategy announced, greater scrutiny is warranted.
Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for International Studies and the author of A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans.