(The November Cover)

One Nation,
Inhospitable?

The Atlantic's Jack Beatty convenes a panel of experts on immigration and asks if this fear is justified.


 

"MY fellow immigrants!", Franklin Roosevelt once began an address to the Daughters of the American Revolution. That unabashedly pro-immigrant sentiment is a long, long way from Bill Clinton's willingness to sign a welfare bill that would deny public assistance to legal immigrants (and Clinton wouldn't tie his shoes without taking a reassuring sounding of public opinion). Even worse things are in store for the children of illegal immigrants, especially if California Governor Pete Wilson has his way. Our first question to our distinguished participants, then, must be Why are Americans in such a mean mood toward immigrants? How deep does the sentiment Clinton and Wilson are appealing to go? Do you see it abating or growing stronger -- and with what policy results?

 


On the economics of immigration: Is it a mistaken impression that California gets more from even its illegal immigrants than they in turn cost the state in welfare and schools? Aren't illegals the main prop of the California agricultural economy? And if there were not illegals available to do the work, wouldn't the growers have to raise wages to attract legals and perhaps even native-born workers, and wouldn't that raise prices on the fruit and produce we consume? In a real sense, if the above is so, aren't illegal migrant workers the American consumer's best friend? Aren't low prices a considerable benefit of immigration?

California Governor Pete Wilson wants to practice ethnic cleansing in the California public schools. Does he have a rendezvous with infamy? Isn't he apt in history's perspective to be compared with Earl Warren, who so zealously rooted Japanese-Americans out of California in the early years of the Second World War? Is what Wilson is doing anything more than the demagogic incitement of Anglo resentment?

Writing at the time of the old immigration, the sociologist Florian Zanicki defined America as "the euthanasia of memories," meaning by that haunting phrase that in the great melting pot ancestral identities were dissolved. But surely the major institution of assimilation -- the public schools -- has lost its former assimilative confidence if not its assimilative mission as well. Was Zanicki right? Are the new immigrants following in the wistful footsteps of the old -- killing off their memories? Or are they holding on to them longer or more tenaciously?

-- Jack Beatty

 


Forum Overview



Introduction and opening questions by Jack Beatty

Round One -- Posted November 6, 1996

 

Round Two -- Posted November 20, 1996