One Nation, Inhospitable?

Americans are proud of the role immigration has played in their past but seem to fear its role in the present. The Atlantic's Jack Beatty convenes a panel of experts on immigration and asks if this fear is justified.

(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

 




 

Presented by

Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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