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The Great American Dream

The American dream is that one can escape tyranny, entrenched class distinctions, religious intolerance or deadly civil strife (war or criminality) and arrive in America where everyone, regardless of their background, has an equal chance to thrive. Those without resources, but with grit and intelligence will rise to the top of society, those who simply want to pursue a dignified vocation, raise a family and hope for a better future for their children can achieve that through diligence and perseverance. America is the perfect even playing field for immigrants who arrive with nothing but their own dedication to moving forward and achieving a satisfying life. Generation after generation of immigrants who arrived on our shores with only their spirits and their immediate possessions, and then have pursued this American dream, have become us—the present generation of resident Americans.

Now there are those among us who want to lock newcomers out, who want to restrict the total number of new immigrants and to limit those who are let into our country to only those who already have financial stability, educational attainment, vocational, technical or scientific skills that are needed by our country. Such immigrants don’t need a level playing field, for they will already be on the upper slopes of the field when they arrive. What is the need that generates this desire among some of our fellow citizens? We certainly want to attract the technical, academic and scientific elite from other countries and we are in competition with the rest of the developed world in doing so. But attracting such people to America has nothing to do with limiting the entry of those who don’t fit such a category. There is no difficulty at present for such people to obtain a visa and enter the U.S. to work (except if they are on a country that is currently on an exclusion list). Admitting less skilled, less educated and less talented people does not jeopardize the chance of a whiz-kid computer programmer from India becoming a member of the American society.

Many argue that less skilled, less educated immigrants are taking jobs away from resident Americans who themselves are unskilled and poorly educated. While this can occur in some cases, the majority of the jobs such people take are not ones sought by resident Americans. Others argue that the poorly skilled, poorly educated immigrants often become criminals, members of ghetto gangs and funnelers of drugs into the country. While it is true that some hardened criminals are among the immigrants to America and when they get here they attempt to extend the influence of their criminal organizations into American life, this characterizes a very small percentage of new immigrants and those people are easily identified when  they arrive. Numerous studies have shown that new immigrants are actually less likely to engage in criminal activity than resident Americans. Others argue that new immigrants bring with them cultural and religious traditions that are foreign to American culture, and which undermine the traditional American way of life. There may be clashes between the religious and cultural practices of immigrants and the majority of resident Americans, but this country was founded upon the idea of giving safe haven to those who wanted to practice a minority religion but were not allowed to do so, except in America. And some of the “minority” religions, such as Catholicism, Calvinism, Quakerism, were relatively mainstream in some areas of the world, but not in the colonies or the new American states when they became United under one flag. Tolerance for these “minority” religions was part of the great American tradition. Is this the tradition people fear is being threatened by non-Christians arriving in our midst?

The truth is, there is not a rational reason for limiting immigration to those who can contribute to American society because of qualities they already possess and the fear of immigrants is greatly overblown, with blame for countless defects and deficits within our society laid at their feet. Some people see racism as the source of this opposition to immigration. There are those who dread the moment when white Americans become less than the majority in this country. Those people are in fact racist. But many who do not place race at the center of their opposition are also opposed to immigration as we have been experiencing it (and I mean legal, not illegal immigration). Those people’s opposition is lacking a basis in reality and even more so, it violates the American tradition and the Great American Dream.

Reader Comments (6)

It could be argued that anyone who uses the term "white Americans" and then throws out an unsupported declaration opining that a certain group of people must somehow think and operate along those same racially-divisive lines, is, by definition, a racist. The irony and hypocrisy present in such a statement seems fairly astounding. The moral grandstanding appears quite unhelpful. Perhaps the article meant to indicate that many Americans are concerned about importing people whose values don't align with the rule of law or the U.S. Constitution.

It is also very difficult to understand why so many people who call themselves "progressives" don't recognize that, for the most part, their incessant drive to view all American concerns in terms of race is in fact the actual source of racism presently dividing our country.

As far as letting people into the country, the assumption that America has some omnipresent global duty to offer refuge and respite to any person seeking it is just wrong. By necessity, we've had controlled immigration for a century. Immigration into the U.S. is not entirely meant to benefit the world. It is meant in many ways to benefit the people of the United States.

Encouraging immigration of low-skilled, poorly educated people means they have much less of a chance of competing in the job market and will thus end up using entitlements as a means to survive. This will deplete the already limited resources available for our poor who already seem to flourish in the millions. Why would we want to do that to our most vulnerable citizens? How is it practical, wise or moral to import more people who will end competing for the same entitlements? How can anyone be for both helping the poor and then want to bring in more people who by definition, are poor and without the skills to not be poor for a significant period of time?

There really can be no American Dream for anyone if basic American exceptionalism is reduced by the importation of large swaths of people who have few skills, little desire to assimilate, and are operating with a host of non-American values, and which, if continued unchecked, will bring us to a point of American mediocrity rather quickly.

January 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

As I often do, I disagree, but it's always good to hear an alternative opinion. Thank you, Mark.

January 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

Needless to say, as an immigrant, I agree with you, Casey, although of course the view of immigration you present is the ideal, not at all the fact, as Mark points out. He, however, does not seem to know that the restrictions upon immigration of certain groups had nothing to do with their having values that aligned with American values or skills needed for the U.S. workforce. They did have to do with racism, of the cruelest and crassest kind: eugenics, the "theory" developed by white middle-class professional men mid-19th century in Great Britain and embraced in the U.S. and other European countries, most fervently by the Nazis, who counted among their supporters the elites in both the U.S. and Great Britain. As Stephen Jay Gould brilliantly delineates in his very accessible book, The Mismeasure of Man, every time anthropometrics were applied in order to prove that WASP heterosexual professional males were the top of the heap, honest scientists had to admit that the measure was proving that humans are, on the whole, equal. So the target changed, from the length of the forearm to the size of the brain, the weight of the brain, the size of the frontal lobe of the brain, the circumvolutions of the brain, the size of the buttocks for women, the amount of menstrual blood, etc., etc., all in the vain hope to keeping at the top of the heap those devising the measurements. The 1923 immigration act was based on this pseudoscience. I came to the States under the aegis of this act, which was not overturned until 1972. What was the problem with us? I was 13. My mother was a highly educated woman, member of the Romanian Academy, speaker of five languages. The quota of Romanians was so small that by the time we left Romania as refugees in February, 1962, it was already filled for the year, and we had to wait in Western countries for it to be raised so we could come in February, 1963. Let's see now. My mother taught high school for her entire U.S. career, although that metier was way below her education and capacities. Her students 30 years later would come up to me to tell me how much my mother had influenced their lives. With one year of French with her, some of her students placed in the second year of French at University of Michigan. As for me, I received my PhD in Comparative Literature from University of Michigan and taught at the university level for 39 years. Clearly, we were the kind of immigrant who had to be allowed by tiny trickles lest we destroyed the American way of life. I'm not a progressive. I'm a liberal because not being a liberal makes one not a conservative, but an illiberal person. And when you negotiate for a job, let me know, Mark, whether you'd like a liberal or an illiberal contract, or the same in a settlement: liberal or illiberal? Your choice.

January 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

I wasn't making a claim that past immigration reform was for noble reasons, only that it was thought necessary and that even within that primitive thinking, immigration limits or quotas sought to benefit the American people, albeit in a thoroughly misguided manner. Additionally, It does show that our country has a remarkable ability to be self-correcting and rethink and revise our inherited flaws forwarded from the past. I never said that there shouldn't be immigration, only that the current citizens of the United States have an absolute right to determine the future citizens it allows in. Furthermore, Anca, you make the case for me with your personal legacy of success. After waiting a year, your mother came here with skills and was very successful. You developed skills while here and became at least as successful as your mother. It's a true American Dream story. I don't see the underlying angst in any of that narrative.

I didn't label you or anyone as a progressive. I was simply pointing out a very obvious problem with identity politics and its typical source. I'm not sure what labeling yourself as a "liberal" does for you, but if that's how you self identify, so be it. If you're implying I'm conservative or illiberal, either label would be erroneous. I believe people's views on different political topics aren't understood through blanket labeling, but by independent evaluation of individual attitudes based on subject matter. I'm a free speech absolutist, so, I declare myself a classic liberal in this regard. As far as marijuana goes, I'm libertarian just so long as I don't have to pay for your care when your brain cells have been killed to the point of inadequacy. I see health care insurance as a product, not a right, so I'd say I'm a fiscal conservative in that area. Individual people have individual thoughts that don't necessarily align with a single ideology, which really goes back to my point on identity politics. And as far as negotiating a contract for a job, I'm a social worker. There is no negotiation. You get what you're offered, which isn't much.

January 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

An interesting story about how family reunification was made a part of our immigration policy in order to insure that Europeans continued to be the dominant numbers in new immigrants, as they were at the time it was instituted. https://www.npr.org/2018/01/29/581674997/the-history-of-the-family-unification-immigration-policy-in-the-u-s

January 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

It seems pretty clear that citizens in 1965 wanted people with Western, Judeo-Christian values being prioritized in immigration. So what? As I previously stated, the people who are (and were) the citizens of any country get to absolutely determine who is going to eventually join them as fellow citizens, regardless of any (modern) value judgement placed on those efforts. And there is the most laughable exchange in that article regarding the term "chain migration" as being one offensive to African-American people. Neither party in that exchange speaks for African-American people. It's just another example of leftists militating on behalf of an enshrined protected class while simultaneously robbing the individuals who make up that segment of the population of their own agency.

January 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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