It was 50 years ago this year that the current immigration system was born. The 1965 revision of immigration law completely transformed U.S. immigration policy.
So, 50 years later, it behooves us to ask if mass immigration has made sense. But we should first understand how that revised law came about.
Simply put, it was a product of the 1960s civil rights movement. Though immigration was not the focus of that movement, many American liberals used the momentum of the civil rights laws to transform immigration as well, forcing the country to abandon a proven policy and adopt one whose consequences nobody could anticipate. Until 1965, America had a sensible immigration policy. It was strict but not necessarily exclusionist, for it allowed people of all races to immigrate, but only in sensible numbers. The overhaul was triumphantly signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, the 1960s champion of liberal causes.
You need only a glance at the immigration statistics of the last 50 years to realize the upheaval induced by that law. In the decade of 1960s, with immigration occurring mostly under the previous system, 1.1 million European immigrants were admitted, along with 1.6 million from Mexico, the Caribbean, South and Central America, Asia, and Africa. In the next decade, the 1970s, when the new law was in full effect, the latter groups doubled to 3.2 million, while European immigration was suppressed to 826,000. Third World immigration has been avalanching ever since. In the last decade (2000s), 8.4 million non-European immigrants were admitted, while only 1.3 million Europeans were. Simply put, for every European immigrant, at least six non-European immigrants are admitted. If you include illegal aliens, then that ratio becomes even more lopsided.
Ideally, immigrants’ origins should not matter if they spoke English and assimilated. But the reality is far different — the proliferation of bilingual signs in public places is undeniable evidence that assimilation is in serious jeopardy.
I am a naturalized American myself (and a nonwhite immigrant, incidentally). As a staunch assimilationist, I find the widespread emphasis on cultural diversity a corrosive influence on America. Simply put, I believe if you come here, then you must learn English and assimilate — or else you should return to your native country. My logic is very simple: You came here because your native culture failed to provide opportunities, so what sense does it make to practice that culture here?
Naive immigration policy has directly affected national life in America. Take the issue of Islamic terrorism on American soil. It is large-scale Third World immigration that has enabled Islamic immigrants to come here, stay unassimilated and plot against Americans. (The Islamic gunman who killed the servicemen in Chattanooga is but the latest example.) Nevertheless, our immigration policy naively ignores the irreconcilable differences between the Islamic culture and the West and continues to hope for a utopia.
The next time you grumble at such-and-such rule of airport security, don’t blame Transportation Security Administration agents. Instead, the blame should go to our naive immigration system that allows anti-American foreigners to come here in the first place, whose presence leads to national nervousness about security.
The 1965 act is the culprit for another current crisis — illegal immigration. As noted above, that law deluged the country with millions of Third World immigrants. Eventually, they were given citizenship — even those who could not speak English. Subsequently, other laws were modified to accommodate this deluge; for instance, the outrageous practice of printing ballots in foreign languages for those who received citizenship without learning English. Such accommodations eventually sent the message that if you come here, you are entitled to various benefits. It doesn’t matter how you come here — legally or illegally — just come here.
So, you see, the 1965 law has brought far more trouble than it is worth. To be sure, it helped millions of Third Worlders escape poverty. But the purpose of immigration policy should not be to address poverty overseas — rather, it should be to address the skills needed in this country.
It is one thing to admit a highly skilled worker and his wife and children, but quite another to also admit his brothers, sisters and parents merely because they are related to him. Yet that is exactly how our current system operates — it brings in multiple unskilled immigrants for every skilled immigrant. Hence the deluge.
If America is to ever regain the cohesive culture it once had, then we must formulate a modern, strictly skills-based system where immigrants speak English and truly assimilate. Think about it — it is a matter of national security.
• Ian de Silva is an engineer who has interests in politics and history.