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Breaking into the '90s. A New World in Time. Walls fall, debts rise, politicians thrive, environments suffer-a look over the shoulder and over the horizon. : Immigrant Values Challenge American Ideals

December 31, 1989|Thomas Fleming | Thomas Fleming is the editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, published by the Rockford Institute.

ROCKFORD, ILL. — Changes in U.S. immigration policy have resulted in the arrival of more than 600,000 legal immigrants every year. Their ranks are swelled by the million (at least) who come illegally. Most immigrants, legal or not, come from Third World countries where many basic American values are either unknown or ignored.

Some, of course, possess valued job skills, a willingness to work and a strong desire to become Americans.

Others carry a different set of luggage, bringing habits of lawlessness and irresponsibility that help to explain why the crime problem in Miami and Washington steadily worsens.

Massive immigration always causes social and political disruption. It will continue in the 1990s; it will be more widespread.

Many Americans are quite rightly alarmed at the prospect of a Balkanized United States. As a result, there is growing support for a number of political solutions.

The best is the English-language amendment, ensuring that official business, including voting, is carried out in the traditional language of the United States.

Other proposals are less benign. The Immigration and Naturalization Service already has the power to invade private businesses in pursuit of undocumented workers. Some Americans would like to see its powers strengthened. Others call for a national identity card; all Americans would have to show papers to any bullying official on demand.

The most popular suggestion is that schools upgrade their civics classes and teach American values to the children of immigrants. That sounds harmless enough, but what such proposals come down to is a plan of forced Americanization.

In the past, this has meant Protestantizing Catholics, Christianizing Jews and subverting the Old World values of parents.

Oregon tried, in the 1920s, to force Catholic children into public schools. Nebraska attacked German schools by legislating against foreign-language instruction before eighth grade.

I shudder to think what forced Americanization would mean in the 1990s. Social-studies classes now teach next to nothing about American history or the Constitution. But they already subvert the old-fashioned views of the students' parents in matters of religion, tradition and authority. How can we make loyal citizens out of disloyal children?

Yet if immigration causes serious problems, there are simple and direct solutions: the states should forbid the award of welfare benefits to non-citizens, require English for all official business, return to teaching U.S. history and Western Civilization. Above all, this country should take steps to restrict the number of immigrants.

Forced Americanization will not make good citizens. It will strengthen the power of government over our private lives. It will diminish the liberty that is an American's birthright.

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