Fears that America will be damaged or neutered or whatever by large numbers of immigrants who don’t share “our values” as a country and have no wish to do so is not a new thing. According to the article Rise of a New Underclass by Ellis Cose, we have been down this road before and it proved untrue.
Part of our problem today however stems from the fact that there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what it means to be a citizen of the United States. What makes us Americans? There are probably as many answers as there are American citizens, and while many of these definitions are likely quite similar, it make might sense to focus the immigration debate on exactly what we mean when we talk about assimilation beyond a common spoken language. We Americans have this odd sense of freedom that often seems to be something that we want for ourselves and those like us and would like to curtail in others who are “not us” so to speak. And here lies our problem. We welcome those who come and submit to the “American Dream” but anyone who wishes to retain aspects of themselves that don’t fit within the narrow span allowed, or who wish to redefine the dream, are deemed undesirable.
Illegal immigration gets all the attention, but what we have is an overall immigration problem within which illegally entering our country is but a symptom – albeit a large one. And it really all starts with identity. But is it one we all share? And if not, where are the overlaps? How can we expect immigrants to assimilate if we can’t answer that question with a united voice?