Cover Story

Fear of commitment

"Fear of commitment" Continued...

Issue: "America's best & worst," Feb. 1, 2003

As Northwestern University law professor Rob Sobhani notes, Mexican politicians consider naturalized Americans from Mexico "bi-nationals" and even campaign for their votes during Mexican elections. Jorge Amselle, a Latino Republican activist, warns that "The Mexican government through its promotion of bilingual education and of dual nationality and voting is actively subverting the assimilative process of Americanization."

Just why activist immigration lawyers think all this nonassimilation is good is perplexing. Part of the answer, John Fonte of the Hudson Institute says, is that America's legal and scholarly elites see patriotism as cornball. Many view the powerful nation-state as passŽ or negative, preferring an ideal in which we are all citizens of the world.

Some immigration activists also claim that making newcomers learn English is "discriminatory." And they're pushing for non-citizens to have many of the same rights-including the right to vote-as citizens. Louis Henkin, a scholar who writes about immigration law, disdains "archaic notions of sovereignty" and wants to jettison nearly all differences "between a citizen and a non-citizen permanent resident" in all federal laws.

And yet, despite the best efforts of anti-assimilation elites, most Americans say they back patriotic assimilation and most immigrants stubbornly insist on becoming Yankee Doodle/Norman Rockwell stereotypes. According to the research firm Public Agenda, 87 percent of foreign-born parents and 88 percent of all parents agree that "schools should make a special effort to teach new immigrants about American values."

Those polled also agreed, 65 percent to 26 percent, that America's schools are a good place to "help new immigrants absorb America's language and culture as quickly as possible, even if their native language and culture are neglected."

When parents were asked which should be a higher priority-teaching children to be proud of being part of America and learning the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, or focusing on pride in their ethnic group's identity and heritage-parents of all races overwhelmingly chose "pride in and learning about America."

So much for "dual loyalties."

Most of those newly minted Americans in Baltimore would surely have agreed with the majority of poll respondents. Before taking the oath of citizenship, one of the speakers-a grizzled black man named Wilhelm Joseph, himself an immigrant from Trinidad some four decades ago-gave the crowd a final pop quiz on what America is all about. With a huge American flag behind him, and three enormous, candy-striped cardboard letters propped in front of him, he held up the first letter.

"What does the letter R bring to your mind?" he asked in a lilting, Caribbean-accented voice.

"Rights!" the audience cheerfully shouted back at him.

"Rights!" he agreed. "You enjoy certain rights: the right to vote, the right to practice your religion, the right to free speech, the right to criticize your government, the right to protest, the right to change. But R also stands for something else, because where you are given rights, you are also expected to exercise ... what?"

"Responsibilities!" the crowd hollered back.

Moments later, they were pledging to defend and protect America, and singing "God Bless America" for good measure. Zubair Khan, the former Pakistani stockbroker, was a jubilantly kissing his wife and two children. WORLD asked him the same question it asked several other immigrants: Would he be willing to have his young son one day take up arms on behalf of America-even if it were against the country his father once called home?

"Absolutely," he replied.

As President Bush noted in his inaugural address, every immigrant makes our country more American, not less-but only if he embraces our ideals. For as long as the world keeps giving America her poor, tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free-or at least, breathe the air of American opportunity-we must do our best to see that this happens.


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