- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

Before their meeting this weekend, President Vicente Fox of Mexico praised President Bush’s courage for his guest-worker program to regulate the flow of illegal Mexican immigrants to the United States.

Indeed, a number of Mr. Bush’s followers and Republican leaders feel that way. Mr. Bush took a certain amount of political risk challenging the Pat Buchanan right and others in his party who want to demonize Mexicans and build fences to hold them back.

Yet, another way to look at Mr. Bush’s guest-worker program is that, from the beginning, it never had a chance of passage this election year and its main effect has been to neutralize the immigration issue. This is a great relief to mainstream Republicans and Democrats alike.

The shame about this is that the need for leadership on immigration has never been higher. It has reached a point of national urgency.

Samuel Huntington, the Harvard professor who coined the phrase “clash of civilizations” eight years ago to describe the coming conflict between Islam and the West, has written a new book warning that the United States will continue to ignore the challenge on its borders at its peril.

“Who We Are,” which was excerpted in this month’s Foreign Policy magazine, warns that the “single most immediate and most serious challenge to America’s traditional identity comes from the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico, and the fertility rates of these immigrants compared to black and white American natives.”

By ignoring the challenge, Mr. Huntington argues, Americans are acquiescing in their eventual transformation “into two peoples with two cultures (Anglo and Hispanic) and two languages (English and Spanish).”

Having been created by “overwhelmingly white, British and prominent settlers,” the United States was transformed by the 19th-century tide of immigration followed by the civil rights movement. “Americans now see and endorse their country as multiethnic and multiracial,” Mr. Huntington writes.

Yet he argues this American creed is under assault by the doctrines of multiculturalism and diversity; “the rise of group identities based on race, ethnicity and gender over national identity” and other such factors.

His article has met a bitter reaction from some Latino journalists and intellectuals.

The notion Mr. Huntington advances that Latinos are governed by a “manana” syndrome or that they somehow are not as interested in succeeding and prospering as the rest of us looks anecdotal. Indeed, it is a clash of anecdotes when I see the industrious, Spanish-speaking family men and women moving among us in Northern Virginia.

Why Hispanics cannot be like other immigrant groups and pick up English eventually while retaining their own language and traditions, Mr. Huntington doesn’t explain. He may prove the point in the book to be published.

For now, his warnings about high birthrates in the Hispanic population in the United States sound like a smear, a replate of the high birth warnings against Islamic nations in 1996, when he wrote “Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.”

Those probing for the center ground and a pragmatic solution are accused of political opportunism, bowing to Hispanic demographics. The real or imagined loss of American jobs to the newcomers is at issue in a couple of states, but public costs and benefits of illegal immigration continue to grow.

Interestingly, exit polls in the Southwest Democratic primaries this year showed viewpoints on illegal immigration are no different among Hispanic voters than in the population at large.

A fully legal, new U.S. citizen of Mexican ancestry supporting a family along the border in Arizona is more directly threatened for job security, salary and benefits by illegal crossers than anyone.

Mr. Huntington, in a discussion of “white nativism,” says white Californians, now a racial minority, won’t react like Bosnian Serbs with ethnic cleansing but “the chance that they will not react at all is also about zero.” Noting the recent approval of voter initiatives to cut off benefits for illegal immigrants, he predicted “white groups are likely to look for other ways of protecting themselves.”

It is an uncomfortable and disturbing work by one of the nation’s most highly regarded academics.

John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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