We are all familiar with the saying that America is a nation of immigrants. My parents came here from Poland in the 1920s and I was born in New York City three years after their arrival. I went to public schools, served in the army in World War II, went to college, and eventually became a writer and a conservative. I consider myself just as much of an American as those whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower. The so-called generation gap between me and my immigrant parents is as wide as the Grand Canyon.
The Challenge of Modern Immigration
The same is true for Rev. R. J. Rushdoony, Chalcedon’s founder, whose Armenian parents came to this country in the early 1900s. He was born here, went to the public schools, attended the University of California at Berkeley, became a Reformed Christian minister, and became one of America’s foremost Calvinist theologians with a profound understanding of American history and culture.
It only takes one generation to leap from the foreign past to the American present. Of course, our parents came to America legally. They waited patiently in line at American consulates overseas to be able to immigrate to the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Today we face an entirely different problem: massive illegal immigration from south of the border. It continues because American employers need these low-paid workers to pick the crops, clean the hotel rooms, do the maintenance, wait on tables, do the gardening and landscaping, etc. The idea that at any time the U. S. government might round up these eight to ten million people, put them on trucks and buses, and send them back to Mexico and Central America clearly violates every American’s sense of human rights.
The President has proposed a program that would give these illegals some form of legal status. Many of them have put down roots in their communities, given birth to children who are American citizens, and have jobs that need to be done. We are stuck with a problem that is not easy to solve.
A Nobel Past
America has always depended on immigration to energize its economic and cultural development. The original settlers came from England and Scotland and formed the racial, cultural, and religious foundations of our society. The importation of tens of thousands of slaves from Africa was bound to cause problems in the future. But the needs of the moment outweighed any consideration of the future.
The 1840s and ‘50s saw the massive immigration of Catholics from Ireland. Many Protestants imagined a Popish plot to take control over the young, but there was basically no control over our borders. Immigrants could board a ship in Europe and land and settle in America with no restrictions. Germans and Swedes came in large numbers to homestead in the West where lots of land was available.
In the 1880s and ‘90s the great wave of immigration began from Italy and Eastern Europe. These immigrants had more difficulty assimilating, but in only one generation they became enterprising and aspiring Americans. Many Italians became small farmers and vintners, but most of the immigrants from Eastern Europe settled in the big cities where they were easily brought into the Democratic Party. Meanwhile the growth of mammoth industries during the industrial revolution provided jobs for many newcomers and also drew many poor blacks from the South into the cities of the North.
By the 1920s, however, the EugenicsMovement had gained so much influence among the Protestant elite that new immigration laws were passed to limit the number of immigrants from Eastern Europe. The American elite had become aware of the declining birthrate among themselves and the high birthrate of the immigrants, whom they considered to be racially inferior. But once assimilated, the children of the immigrants, imitating the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority, began to have smaller families. That is a pattern that has persisted to the present.
As a child from an immigrant family, I saw all of this take place within my lifetime. Most of us went to college under the G.I. Bill and entered all of the professions: law, medicine, finance, science, teaching, radio, television, the arts, theater, etc. Many in my generation laid the foundation of our high-tech economy, and our children became the computer software engineers, the Silicon Valley dot-com entrepreneurs that are still shaping the future of our culture.
While all of this was going on, there began an invasion of illegal immigrants from Latin America. There was at first not much alarm. Farmers in Southern California needed them to pick fruits and vegetables, and many illegals from Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean found gainful employment in the eastern part of the U. S. Americans were no longer willing to take these low-paying, labor-intensive jobs. High school and college graduates aspired to better white-collar careers.
These Hispanic illegals have been changing the culture of our country, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, and a growing resentment has arisen.
Throughout the South, which has been largely English in cultural background, there are now large Hispanic communities. Assimilation is occurring at a very slow rate, and our public school system is creating a large number of functional illiterates among them. While the public schools of the 1920s and ‘30s Americanized the children of immigrants, schools today no longer do so. Despite this, many young Hispanics enter our voluntary armed services and perform their duties competently and with honor.
Also, our immigration laws have been changed to permit more legal immigration from Africa and Asia. Many Muslims have come to our shores since the 1960s, creating a significant number of immigrants unwilling to assimilate into our secular or Judeo-Christian culture. Many of them hope to convert America into an Islamic society. Christian missionaries must work to convert them from their religion of hate into followers of Jesus Christ. The Hispanics are mainly Catholic and therefore can contribute to our Judeo-Christian culture. Many of them, in fact, are being drawn into small Protestant churches.
Preserving Our Heritage
What should Reformed Christians do? We must endeavor to maintain our basic cultural heritage which we celebrate each Fourth of July. Many illegal immigrants lead very conservative cultural lives. They are anti-abortion, pro-traditional marriage, etc. They should be reached with Spanish translations of the Reformed Christian message. Their ill-educated children are the problem. Many of them have been drawn into drugs and gangs, and most of them cannot read. These social problems are caused by a dysfunctional system run by behavioral psychologists and liberal multiculturalists. Their aim is not to turn these youths into productive Americans but to turn them into clients of psychologists, social workers, therapists, and counselors.
However, since our resources are limited, our main duty is to continue our work among Christians, to get them to educate their children in Christian schools or at home, to strengthen the positive Christian influence in our culture, so that the immigrants, legal and illegal, will find a moral force that can be of spiritual help to them. Throughout the Southwest, legal Mexican immigrants have become good productive citizens, and we can expect their first and second generation of Americans to enter every facet of our economy and cultural life.
It is unlikely that this country will deport the millions of illegal immigrants who now live among us. Many of them have put down roots and have become necessary citizens, legal or not. Expulsion is not practical. President Bush has suggested giving them some sort of legal status so that we can know who they are, where they live, and whether or not they are leading honest lives.
Of course, all of this will change the demographics of our society. Is that good or bad? When I consider those of us who are involved in saving our American Christian heritage I find among them Armenians, Jews, Italians, Catholics, blacks, and others, who love this country and will fight day and night for its survival and improvement. Our values attract all sorts of people, including newcomers who learn of them not in the public schools but in the patriotic air that infuses America. That is why so many of the second generation are attracted to the military.
I tend to be optimistic about the future of immigration. Ninety-nine percent of the people who come to this country, legally and illegally, do not want to destroy America. They want to enjoy its standard of living, its opportunities, its freedoms. They want the same things that immigrants of the past wanted. I look at the children of my brothers and sisters: all university graduates pursuing many different careers, scattered throughout North America. America has enormous resilience, and I believe that the children of the illegals will turn out to be as good and patriotic as any generation of Americans that came before them.