It used to be that only open-borders activists said it. Now the entire political leadership of the United States is saying it. President Bush is saying it. Sen. Specter is saying it. Even Sen. Bill "enforcement-only" Frist is saying it:
"We are a nation of immigrants built upon the rule of law."
Of course, that cute little addition about "rule of law" is nothing but boob bait for the Bubbas (a category of persons that, in the minds of our leaders, seems to constitute about three-quarters of the country); our leaders have as much intention to enforce the immigration laws as I have to fly to Mars next week. The part of the statement that counts is the business about "nation of immigrants." To see the entire political leadership of our country pronouncing in unison this slogan, all as a part of an effort to push through the most catastrophic open-borders scheme in our history, is an Orwellian experience. If we're a "nation of immigrants," how can we be a nation of Americans?
To say that America is a "nation of immigrants" is to imply that there has never been an actual American people apart from immigration. It is to put America out of existence as a historically existing nation that immigrants and their children joined by coming here, a country with its own right to exist and to determine its own sovereign destiny—a right that includes the right to permit immigration or not. No patriot, no decent person who loves this country, as distinct from loving some whacked-out, anti-national, leftist idea of this country, would call it a "nation of immigrants." Any elected official who utters the subversive canard that America is a "nation of immigrants" should, at the least, find his phone lines tied up with calls from irate constituents.
Of course, at first glance it seems indisputable that "we are a nation of immigrants," in the sense that all Americans, even including the American Indians, are either immigrants themselves or descendants of people who came here from other places. Given those facts, it would have been more accurate to say that we are "a nation of descendants of immigrants." But such a mundane assertion would fail to convey the thrilling idea conjured up by the phrase "nation of immigrants"—the idea that all of us, whether or not we are literally immigrants, are somehow "spiritually" immigrants, in the sense that the immigrant experience defines our character as Americans.
This friendly-sounding, inclusive sentiment—like so many others of its kind—turns out to be profoundly exclusive. For one thing, it implies that anyone who is not an immigrant, or who does not identify with immigration as a key aspect of his own being, is not a "real" American. It also suggests that newly arrived immigrants are more American than people whose ancestors have been here for generations. The public television essayist Richard Rodriguez spelled out these assumptions back in the 1990s when he declared, in his enervated, ominous tone: "Those of us who live in this country are not the point of America. The newcomers are the point of America." Certainly the illegal-alien demonstrators in Los Angeles last week agreed with him; America, they kept telling us, belongs to them, not to us.
In reality, we are not—even in a figurative sense—a nation of immigrants or even a nation of descendants of immigrants. As Chilton Williamson pointed out in The Immigration Mystique, the 80,000 mostly English and Scots-Irish settlers of colonial times, the ancestors of America’s historic Anglo-Saxon majority, had not transplanted themselves from one nation to another (which is what defines immigration), but from Britain and its territories to British colonies. They were not immigrants, but colonists. The immigrants of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries came to an American nation that had already been formed by those colonists and their descendants. Therefore to call America "a nation of immigrants" is to suggest that America, prior to the late nineteenth century wave of European immigration, was not America. It is to imply that George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant (descended from the original colonists) were not "real" Americans, but that Richard Rodriguez (descended from 20th century immigrants) and the anti-American demonstrators last week in Los Angeles, are.
Apart from its politically correct function of diminishing the Anglo-Saxon Americans of the pre-Ellis Island period and their descendants, the "nation of immigrants" motto is meaningless in practical terms. Except for open-borders utopians (a group that has grown over the years until now it seems to constitute a majority of the Democratic Party), everyone knows that we must have some limits on immigration. The statement, "we are a nation of immigrants," gives us no guidance on what those limits should be. Two hundred thousand immigrants per year? Two million? Why not twenty million—since we’re a nation of immigrants? The slogan also doesn’t tell us, once we have decided on overall numbers, what the criterion of selection shall be among the people who want to come here. Do we choose on the basis of family ties to recent immigrants? Language? Income? Nationality? Race? Victim status? First come first served? Willingness to work for a lower wage than Americans work for? The "nation of immigrants" slogan cannot help us choose among these criteria because it doesn’t state any good that is to be achieved by immigration. It simply produces a blind emotional bias in favor of more immigration rather than less, making rational discussion of the issue impossible.
To see the uselessness of the "nation of immigrants" formula as a source of political guidance, , imagine what the British would have said if they had adopted it in 1940 when they were facing an imminent invasion by Hitler’s Germany. "Look, old man, we’re a nation of immigrant/invaders. First the Celts took the land from the Neolithic peoples, then the Anglo-Saxons conquered and drove out the Celts, then the Normans invaded and subjugated the Anglo-Saxons. In between there were Danish invaders and settlers and Viking marauders as well. Since we ourselves are descended from invaders, who are we to oppose yet another invasion of this island? Being invaded by Germanic barbarians is our national tradition!"
Since every nation could be called a nation of immigrants (or a nation of invaders) if you go back far enough, consistent application of the principle that a nation of immigrants must be open to all future immigrants would require every country on earth to open its borders to whoever wanted to come. But only the United States and, to a lesser extent, a handful of other Western nations, are said to have this obligation. The rule of openness to immigrants turns out to be a double standard, aimed solely at America and the West.
It is also blatantly unfair to make the factoid that "we are all descended from immigrants" our sole guide to national policy, when there are so many other important and true facts about America that could also serve as guides. For example, throughout its history the United States has been a member of Western civilization—in religion overwhelmingly Christian (and mainly Protestant Christian), in race (until the post-1965 immigration) overwhelmingly white, in language English. Why shouldn’t those little historical facts be at least as important in determining our immigration policy as the pseudo-fact that we’re all "descended from immigrants?" But immigrant advocates are incapable of debating such questions, because there is no rational benefit for America that they seek through open immigration. Their aim is not to strengthen and preserve America; their aim is to demonstrate themselves to be good, non-racist people—by surrendering America to the immigrant invasion.
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Lawrence Auster is the author of Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation. He offers a traditionalist conservative perspective at View from the Right. This article is adapted from Mr. Auster's pamphlet, Huddled Clichés: Exposing the Fraudulent Arguments that Have Opened America’s Borders to the World.