Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Commentary

Confronting 'Unmeltable Ethnics'

Check immigration, end bilingual ed and make English the official language.

May 20, 2003|Ernest W. Lefever | Ernest W. Lefever is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.

The fate of 19 illegal immigrants who died in Texas after being locked in a trailer was, of course, tragic. They were among as many as 100 "illegals" from Honduras, El Salvador and elsewhere, some of whom traveled 3,000 miles by bus and on foot only to be packed into the trailer without air conditioning for the final 300 miles. Each paid the smugglers $1,000 to $2,000 for their hoped-for escape from poverty.

But so far, the political response to the looming immigration crisis has been nothing more than symbolic gestures intended to garner Latino votes.

Indeed, uncontrolled immigration -- legal and illegal -- continues to be the bane of modern American politics. With the increasing flow of immigrants from around the world, the U.S. one day may be split along language lines. And we can see what this has done to Canada.

Latinos represent the fastest-growing voting bloc in the U.S. Immigration and language trends are ominous and could threaten a free, cohesive and responsible nation. Ethnic politics is a fact of life, but neither Congress nor the White House has faced the issue squarely.

Consider these facts from the U.S. Census Bureau and other reliable sources:

* Public services for immigrants cost $68 billion a year. Immigrants are twice as likely to receive welfare checks as native- born Americans. Some Mexican women cross the border to have their babies on U.S. soil so their children will enjoy the benefits of U.S. citizenship.

* The U.S. spends $3 billion a year to staunch a flood of illegal immigrants from Mexico and arrests about 1.5 million every year crossing the border. In the U.S. today, there are about 8.7 million illegals. Recently, an immigrant advocacy group sued Arizona for not providing enough drinking-water stations for illegals heading north.

* About 11 million immigrants entered the U.S. in the 1990s, and about 300,000 illegals enter annually, the majority from Mexico.

If these trends persist, by 2050 our population will almost double, and non-Latino whites will be less than half of all residents. English will cease to be a clear-cut predominant language. Today, election ballots, driver's licenses and even citizenship ceremonies are offered in dozens of languages.

The use of English as the country's primary language is already under assault from well- intentioned but ill-conceived bilingual courses in schools that cost $8 billion a year.

* Many recent immigrants, both legal and illegal, show less interest in becoming full-fledged Americans than the millions who came from Europe a century ago, eager to embrace the American dream. We speak glibly of the melting pot as the strength of the nation, but we are loath to acknowledge the unmeltable ethnics whose behavior can be divisive. Immigrants should feel free to use their native language at home, but their children should be taught in English and steeped in U.S. history in school.

In 1915, Teddy Roosevelt asserted: "There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism.... The only absolute way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities."

If "hyphenated Americanism" prevailed, e pluribus will be turned on its head. Thus far the political class has only nibbled at the problem. In 1986, President Reagan signed a bill granting amnesty to about 3 million illegal residents. And in July 2001, key Senate Democrats urged the Bush administration to grant legal status to 3 million Mexican illegals and all other illegals. But more significantly, neither the White House nor Congress has done enough to block illegals or limit legal immigrants.

With no easy answers in sight, a good first step would be to make English our official language and put a stop to bilingual education and other misguided efforts to accommodate citizens or would-be citizens who are deficient in English.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|