The Debate on Immigration

There is what strikes me as a good, reasonable article articulating the opposing positions on immigration by historian Yuval Noah Harari at the Economist. Here’s a snippet:

Term 1: The host country allows the immigrants in.

Term 2: In return, the immigrants must embrace at least the core norms and values of the host country, even if that means giving up some of their traditional norms and values.

Term 3: If the immigrants assimilate to a sufficient degree, over time they become equal and full members of the host country. ‘They’ become ‘us’.

These three terms give rise to three distinct debates about the exact meaning of each term:

He goes on to frame three different debates—on the obligations of host countries, assimilation, and full participation.

I wouldn’t say I was anti-immigration but an immigration skeptic. I think the burden of proof is on those who favor immigration. I don’t think that those who favor immigration are doing a good job of persuasion. More like browbeating.

I think there are underappreciated risks related to immigration. Take language, for example. I think that language has a close relationship with a country’s deep culture. You can’t really assimilate unless you speak a country’s language and, unlike some, I think that assimilation is an obligation that immigrants undertake. Do you know which immigrant group are the least likely to speak English at home? According to the Census Bureau, it’s South Asians. I think that says something about recent immigration and immigrants.

However, the gravest challenges posed by immigration aren’t to the United States. We’ve had substantial immigration for all of our history and will weather the present storm. The gravest challenge is to the ethnic states of Europe. I do not know what they will do. Right now they’re not handling the situation well.

9 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    On language, almost every study I have seen says that Hispanics are adopting English just as fast as immigrants in the past. Some linguists think that Spanish isn’t going to be very prominent for long in the US.


  • On language, almost every study I have seen says that Hispanics are adopting English just as fast as immigrants in the past.

    The study most frequently cited found that Hispanics did adopt English but took longer to adopt it than previous cohorts did.

    There is an additional problem, however. Something that is statistically true may not be true uniformly. There are areas of the country, e.g. the Central Valley, that have Spanish-speaking populations that go back well over the three generations usually mentioned.

    Also note that I didn’t mention Spanish since I am less concerned about the last 35 years than I am about the next 35 years. I suspect that email, Skype, and cheap air travel will make major changes in the relationships between immigrants, their original home countries, and their adopting countries.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I think the linked piece might have benefited from treating refugees as a separate issue. Refugees are given shelter without necessarily the expectation of permanent status. While its true that Article 34 of the refugee treaty encourages a path to citizenship:

    “The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.”

    The first official comment makes it clear that this is encouraged, not mandatory:

    “The decision of the State granting naturalization, in this respect, is absolute. It cannot be compelled to grant its nationality, even after a long waiting period, to a refugee settled in its territory since naturalization confers on the naturalized citizen a series of privileges, including political rights. ”

    Various states have agreed to naturalization paths for refugees. I believe in Denmark there is a nine-year waiting period, followed by a test in Danish language and culture (and you lose this path if you ever go back to your home country). But its not obligatory, and part of the reason its not is that it would discourage states from accepting refugees.

  • steve Link

    The studies I am familiar with which showed slower learning, looked at the rate at which Hispanics vs other groups learned comparing the groups in the present era. The studies of which I am aware that compare current learning rates with those of the past show just as fast or faster now for Hispanics.


  • No study is cited in your link, steve. Only self-reported polling numbers. I’ll try to dig out the reference on the scholarship on this subject. It is as I have characterized it. Most of those, including ThinkProgress, who report on this subject don’t bother to read the actual scholarship.

    And as noted I am not concerned about Spanish or about the 19th century. I am concerned about the millions of South Asians, Chinese, Africans, and people from Middle Eastern countries we will be seeing over the next 35 years. Will pious Gulf Arabs who believe that Arabic is literally the language spoken by God be as likely to adopt English as their primary language as previous cohorts of immigrants?

  • steve Link

    “Will pious Gulf Arabs”

    We should have data on them already. It certainly seems like the Persian contingent adapted quite quickly to our culture and the language. (No Arabic, but from the ME and probably just as pious.)


  • I’m embarrassed for you, steve. Persian is an Indo-European language more closely related to German (or English) than it is to Arabic (a Semitic language) although Persian has adopted many Arabic words. Iranians and Arabs are culturally very dissimilar.

    Most of the Iranians here are Christians anyway. And Islam is pretty specific. God dictated the Qur’an in Arabic. It cannot be read meaningfully in translation.

    And, no, we don’t have sufficient data on Arabs and South Asians. Until very recently most of the Arabs to come to the U. S. were Christians. Until the last decade or so most Arabic speakers were Lebanese, Assyrians, or Chaldeans‐Christians. I live spank in the middle of an Assyrian neighborhood. And South Asian immigration in numbers is actually pretty new. It takes three generations of data.

  • Andy Link

    The article seems pretty reasonable to me.

  • Steve Link

    Dave- That is what I meant when I said “no Arabic”. Have dinner with a group of Iran ex Pat’s on a pretty regular basis so pretty aware of this stuff. However there is still a common culture for those who live in Iran.


Leave a Comment