My colleague Robert Putnam and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush had an Op-Ed in the July 3 Washington Post noting that kvetching about immigrant is a time-honored tradition. The grumbling, however, ignores the reality that immigrant integration has always taken decades and the fact that immigrants are integrating into the mainstream as fast if not faster than in the past. [We get a misleading impression since so many of the immigrants are newer to emigrating to the US, so a snapshot of Hispanics today, for example, masks the steady assimilation that is happening over time within any immigrant family.] The grumbling also ignores just how essential immigration is to the successful economic future for the U.S.
See “A better welcome for our nation’s immigrants” (Washington Post, 7/2/10).
The op-ed contains a great quote by Benjamin Franklin from 1753 about the dire fears of German-American immigrants over-running the country and destroying our language and an amazing vignette about how Bethlehem Steel and the YMCA in Bethlehem, PA collaborated in the early 1900s to teach English free to thousands of immigrants in their town!
Missing from the Op-Ed was the fact that even as late as the 1930s, Mario Cuomo, who went on to become the most gifted American public speaker of his generation, didn’t even speak any English until he started attending public school.
The published Op-Ed also neglected to include that there is strong historical precedent for one of their policy recommendations — aid to communities impacted by the cost of immigration. Both pre- and post-World War II, the federal government provided “impact grants” for local school systems adversely impacted by a massive nationwide buildup of military bases dictated by the national interest, in the same way as higher levels of immigration today are in our national interest to keep the economy strong and deal with our fiscal pressures.