In the August 21 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajan, executive editor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a legal permanent resident, takes the left to task for its attitude towards immigrants. That attitude is many things at once: paternalistic, patronizing, opportunistic, cynical, simplistic, and misleading.
Having watched all four nights of the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Varadarajan “found the Democrats’ obsession with immigrants grating.” That’s because “scarcely a speech or segment went by in which a fetish wasn’t made of immigrants. They were portrayed, almost uniformly, as victims—hapless people thwarted by ‘systemic racism’ and American injustice, moored forever in a netherworld of murk and fear by President Trump’s refusal to be humane.”
It is unclear whether the author himself believes that President Trump’s policies on immigration represent a “refusal to be humane,” or whether he is simply paraphrasing the left’s caricatured view of these policies. Either way, protecting our borders and ensuring that foreign nationals do not take advantage of the United States – be it by those attempting to get their foot in the door through meritless asylum claims, or those attempting to abuse America’s taxpayer-funded social safety net – is hardly inhumane. It is common sense. That having been said, Mr. Varadarajan makes many good points.
The author calls out the left for being “guilty of conflating the people who live in this country without authorization with those—a significant majority of immigrants—who are here legally.” With its “relentless focus on the undocumented margins,” he continues, the left does “an enormous disservice to [millions of]lawful immigrants who go about their dignified business away from the spotlight, getting on with such concerns as work, school and family, grateful for the opportunity to be in America—grateful, in fact, for the opportunity to be Americans.”
He also reminds American leftists and liberals – who seem to have an “obsession with indigent illegal residents” – that “many immigrants have come to America from countries where the state interferes in people’s lives while pretending to help. What many of them really want (…) is for the state to step aside and let them carve out their own destinies.”
Mr. Varadarajan also certainly has a point when stating that “progressives, for their own reasons, scoff at the very notion of ‘assimilation.’” After all, leftists often view asking immigrants to assimilate as an arrogant and oppressive attempt to impose one’s culture on others.
However, he is on much shakier ground when he seeks to contrast identity-politics-embracing leftists with so-called “nativists” who “regard the foreign-born as inherently unassimilable.” Admittedly, in a country as populous (330 million inhabitants) and diverse as the United States, one is bound to find some people who express outlandish or extreme points of view. So, some “nativists” who hold such crude, simplistic, and deterministic views exist.
However, being an immigrant and a naturalized citizen, I have personally never met even one such “nativist” who regards “the foreign-born as inherently unassimilable” – and I have lived in the U.S. for almost 30 years, and have interacted with many people representing various currents of right-of-center American politics (from “moderates” through libertarians to the most rock-ribbed of conservatives) for two decades. Even the most “hawkish” of so-called “immigration hawks” have all, at least in my experience, seen assimilation as both desirable and attainable.
It is difficult to quibble with the following statement made by the author, however: “perpetuating the category of ‘immigrant’ involves the making permanent of an identity that is by definition temporary.” The leftists, according to Mr. Vaadarajan, “would like many of us to embrace a transitory state as an aspiration in itself. ‘E pluribus unum’—one out of many—is less attractive to them than a creed of ‘Many out of one.’” That is an insightful argument that the critics of the left’s pandering don’t make often enough.
But perhaps the most important fragment of the op-ed is that the left’s “compulsion to create ever more categories of victimized minorities by adding ‘immigrants’ to the list of the maltreated serves neither immigrants nor the country. You can see the short-term advantage to the Democrats of an ever-expanding pool of voters from abroad. But I—and millions like me—did not regard the U.S. as a country where you can never acquire a mainstream identity, and where political forces tell you that the surest way to become accepted is to nurse your grievances forever.”