Monday, August 14, 2017


This is an informed and astute analysis of the RAISE Act, the Republican-sponsored immigration reform bill.  The analysis is written by Lyman Stone, a conservative blogger who writes what I think are fair, honest, and relatively hate-less thoughts on migration dynamics in the US and elsewhere.  More than anything, I appreciate that in this and in other articles I've read from him the fact that he is a sincere conservative, meaning that he has certain ideas or preferences for how a society should be run, but he is very conscious of and averse to the ethnic nationalism that has stained the Right Wing in the US and elsewhere.

In his analysis of the RAISE act, Stone is overly concerned in my opinion with the idea of integration of immigrants in US society.  I'm not saying that it's not important for a society to have cohesion and interaction among its members.  But Stone harps a lot on ethnic enclaves whose members don't integrate into US society.  I would offer a few arguments for why this is a misplaced concern. 

First off, US society is constantly evolving and changing.  This is inherent to the society.  Think of all the things that are now "typically American" that are really inheritances from Irish or German or Italian or Mexican immigrants, all of whom maintained certain cultural idiosyncracies because there were so many of them and they maintained ethnic enclaves where their food and language and ideas were preserved, developed, and evolved while they gradually entered the US mainstream.  If all our immigrants in the past had been evenly spaced across the Anglo population instead of concentrated into certain enclaves, and encouraged to rapidly adopt Anglo-American cultural practices, we wouldn't have the pizza or beer or hot dogs or hamburgers or music or movies or politics or philosophy that have enjoyed such important specific contributions from strong ethnic components.  We'd still be eating corn pone and talking like Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Our US culture today would probably be unrecognizable to an American of 1885, and I am glad for it.  If we try to freeze our society at one point in time and demand that any newcomers just maintain that status quo, it is an arbitrary and silly exercise, and it keeps us from the constant change and evolution that has been one major hallmark of our society.

More importantly than this, I think Stone's focus on immigrants' apparent hesitation to integrate into US society is grounded on some fallacies.  Namely, I don't think immigrants are in fact that hesitant to integrate into US society.  My understanding is that, by many measures, immigrants today are integrating faster than those of the past.  There is more intermarriage, quicker learning of English, etc.  Immigrants in the early 20th century often didn't learn English for decades, and their kids took a long time to as well.  Immigrants today, and especially their kids, have to pick up English almost immediately.  I think that many monolingual Americans see immigrants speaking a different language with each other and assume it is because they can't speak English.  But the fact that you know a second or third or fourth language doesn't mean you don't speak English.  So one fallacy is that immigrants are in fact hesitant to or unable to integrate into US society.  This has been totally counter to my experience. 

Another fallacy that Stone seems to rely on is that there is one "US culture" to integrate into.  By his own admission (in other writings), Mr. Stone dislikes and dismisses cities in general, refuses to spend much time in them, and is a proud Kentuckian.  All of these run counter to the mainstream of US society--most of us are not rural, spend a lot of time in cities, and are not from Kentucky.  Is Mr. Stone's unwillingness to adapt and "integrate" into mainstream US society a cause for concern or censure?  I would say not.  If he wants to live his American identity a certain way, that's his right and prerogative, and the rest of us are also in fact richer for it.  The same goes for a Pakistani-American who likes living in a certain area of Chicago and hanging out with a lot of other South Asians.

But the last and most important fallacy I pick up from Mr. Stone is the idea that immigrants live in segregated enclaves mainly due to their own personal choice.  Obviously there is merit to the idea that many people of a certain background seek out others of that background when they arrive somewhere new.  This provides support networks, familiar faces and ideas, a certain degree of safety.  Of course you will seek out some people of your own background to help you settle in.  But I don't think many people migrate to the US from elsewhere in order to be exclusively around people from their origin country.  Those who leave their countries are preseumably the most open to new experiences, to being around different people, sometimes even to rejecting their home culture.  No, I would argue that the existence of monolithic ethnic enclaves is largely a result of "mainstream" white Americans not wanting to be around too many other kinds of people.  Chicago's Latino neighborhoods have undergone a massive influx of Latinos since the 1980s, but equal to or greater than this influx has been the flight of the whites from these neighborhoods.  The first Latinos arriving in these areas chose to live in white neighborhoods.  It was the whites that fled.  Likewise, Chicago's black neighborhoods were initially forced to be all black by laws, and in the and 1960s when this de jure segregation was struck down, blacks sought to live around whites.  It was the whites who fled.  And it is the whites who continue to refuse to look in now-nonwhite neighborhoods when they are making housing decisions.  So to summarize, I think that the bogeyman of immigrants' self-segregating is at the very least exagerrated, if not totally invalid.

All this said, I would encourage my readers to check out Lyman Stone's (much more statistically-informed) thoughts on migration.  I certainly will be doing so.

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