"In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…
There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."
— Theodore Roosevelt 1907
When Teddy Roosevelt uttered those words 100 years ago, the United States was again being flooded by yet another wave of immigrants. And there was resentment and resistance from the "Americans" already in residence – most of whom, of course, were descended from earlier immigrants.
In Lincoln’s time, the Know Nothing party was created to fight the influence of German immigrants moving into Pennsylvania, Ohio and other middle-western states. Politicians catering to that bias drove many German-American voters into Lincoln’s camp, ensuring his election, thank God.
Later, the influx of the Irish into the Northeast provided cannon fodder for the Union Army, even as it precipitated discriminatory laws against the new immigrants in Massachusetts and elsewhere. The Poles, Italians and other immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were also looked upon with disdain.
More recently, legal immigrants from Asia and South America have also faced hurdles, which the best of them, like the best of the earlier waves, have overcome with hard work, education and assimilation.
I’m one of those who believe that legal immigration will continue to be the lifeblood of our nation – and the only way it will survive in an increasingly dangerous world. The crucial word is "legal." We must get a handle on the problem of illegal immigrants, not only because millions of them strain our social services, but because they also make a mockery of the trials and tribulations of all the legal immigrants who played by the rules.
How important are legal immigrants who are willing to assimilate – and protect – America now? You only have to look at the problem facing many European countries. The "native" populations of Italy, Spain and Greece, for example, have fertility rates that range between 1.1 and 1.3 per couple, which is less than is needed to maintain those populations. (The U.S. rate is 2.1; good, but not great.) No civilizations in history have ever survived with their identities intact with rates like those in Europe.
Europe‘s population is being maintained by millions of immigrants from Muslim countries, many of whom don’t want to assimilate. The "cradle to grave" welfare mentality of many European countries (which saps initiative, and, apparently, the reproductive spirit), combined by a political unwillingness to confront religious extremism and exclusion, is a recipe for disaster. We can’t afford to let that happen here.
Immigrants come to America looking for a better life, one that provides both economic opportunity and freedom. We must do everything possible to bring new immigrants into the American mainstream. We must give them a stake in our democracy, our way of life. We should insist that they learn English (if only so they can relate to their kids, who WILL learn English). We should inculcate them in our history and our laws. We must not, out of a misguided interpretation of "civil rights," allow them to put their political, religious and cultural beliefs ahead of their duty to their adopted country. The Constitution, as was famously stated, is not a suicide pact.
For our part of the bargain, we should honor and protect legal immigrants, and our country, by solving the problem of illegal immigration, no matter what it takes.