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Monday, April 24, 2006

Don't Neglect Assimilation

Robert J. Samuelson:

It's all about assimilation -- or it should be. One of America's glories is that it has assimilated many waves of immigrants. Outsiders have become insiders. But it hasn't been easy. Every new group has struggled: Germans, Irish, Jews and Italians. All have encountered economic hardship, prejudice and discrimination. The story of U.S. immigration is often ugly. If today's wave of immigration does not end in assimilation, it will be a failure. By this standard, I think the major contending sides in the present bitter debate are leading us astray. Their proposals, if adopted, would frustrate assimilation.

On the one hand, we have the "cop" school. It adamantly opposes amnesty and would make being here illegally a felony, as opposed to a lesser crime. It toughens a variety of penalties against illegal immigrants. Elevating the seriousness of the crime would supposedly deprive them of jobs, and then illegal immigrants would return to Mexico, El Salvador or wherever. This is a pipe dream; the numbers are simply too large...

On the other hand we have the "guest worker" advocates. They want 400,000 or more new foreign workers annually. This would supposedly curtail illegal immigration -- people who now sneak into the country could get work permits -- and also cure "shortages" of unskilled American workers. Everyone wins. Not really.

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