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America – Melting pot or kitchen pantry?

March 31, 2015

It’s absolutely assured that one of the major talking points on both sides of the political spectrum leading up to the next election will be immigration, as candidates vie for the votes of those who are poised to become de facto “citizens by fiat.” Already, media outlets are evaluating potential election contestants  based on whether they have “flip-flopped” in their views toward immigration.

While it is indisputable that the Obama administration has actively pursued a policy of increasing and legalizing the immigrant population, this isn’t the first president to offer blanket amnesty to people who initially entered the country in violation of our immigration laws.

Leaving election-year politics out of the equation (and let’s face it, every year is an election year, or the run-up to an election year), why is it that we have such a problem with defining our immigration policy in this country? Do we no longer understand what the term” melting pot” implies?

Maybe it’s because we don’t cook anymore. We don’t have a country that functions as a melting pot, but rather more like a pantry. Soups on this shelf, spices on that one, rows of commercially packaged macaroni, sugar and flour, all neatly labeled and organized.

Unless you take ingredients out of the pantry and combine them, you are never going to be able to fix a complete meal. We expect everything to be already blended into a ready-to-serve-meal.  After all, when was the last time you got mac-and-cheese out of an oven instead of a box?

That’s kind of where we are with our immigration policy. We are expecting it to be a three-minute meal that satisfies only our immediate hunger, which at this point seems to be building brand loyalty to a political party.

It would seem that a better and more effective reason might be to strengthen the country and protect its values, assuming of course that you think that values still matter more than votes.

Unless you just throw open the doors to the country, any and all immigration regulations are subject to being called discriminatory by someone.

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson felt that including a clause barring illiterate people from entering was discriminatory, leading in part to his veto of the Immigration Act of 1917 and the necessity for Congress to override that veto to make it the then-current law of the land.

That historical context fails to answer the question of how hard it should be to receive legal resident status and finally to attain citizenship today. Why do so many people expect to just arrive and enjoy all the benefits without any of the responsibilities?

At present immigrant advocate groups opine that attaining the status of naturalized citizen is overly lengthy, burdensome and expensive, particularly for those to whom English is a foreign language.

Is it?

As regards the actual application fee cost, as of 2014 the fee was quoted as $680, including an $85 fingerprinting fee. For a legal immigrant with a job, that does not seem to be an insurmountable obstacle, even if it has to accumulated at a rate of $5.00 a week for 136 weeks, or 2.6 years.

After all, you normally can’t even apply at the earliest until after that time frame. (For a complete instructional booklet on the requirements see the document at: http://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/citizenship-through-naturalization/guide-naturalization.) In general for legal immigrant adults that’s either three or five years depending on marital status, which doesn’t seem too onerous.

So why are some people here for decades and either never take the test at all, or take well over 20 years to become naturalized?

Some immigration rights advocates cite the difficulty of learning the language. OK. It’s widely accepted that English isn’t the easiest language to learn, but there are millions of dollars spent by both government and private charities to craft and administer free or nearly free ESL courses for adult learners.

The question of literacy also enters into the equation. Some immigrants even today are not fully literate in their own language, much less English. We know how to teach people to read and write and there is money available to overcome that barrier.

Some say it is the civics and history requirement. Again, it’s obviously more difficult to understand our political and sociological background if you come from another country, but it shouldn’t take 20 years, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can buy a U.S. government and politics book in the “for dummies” genre for under $20.00 on Amazon.

In general, it seems to come down to motivation. People who really want to live here and who are willing to contribute to the general good of the country in return for citizenship seem to find a way to do it.

And there’s the problem. We make it not only easy to enter the U.S. illegally, but actively encourage a sense of separateness by not motivating people to accept the responsibilities of living here. We have removed the motivation to become participating citizens.

Diversity doesn’t and shouldn’t mean separate, and bigotry doesn’t have a color.

Remember, we have laws that specifically say “separate but equal” is NOT our national policy, yet we do not incentivize immigrants to integrate into our culture.

Since most people are more comfortable with things they already know, they tend to congregate together when they first arrive in the country. Any attempt to suggest modification of that community structure is seen as racist or intolerant.

Supposedly that’s a national policy of tolerance. Separatism isn’t tolerant and it isn’t conducive to economic or political equality. It’s exclusion by political correctness.

That “diversity” policy results in little enclaves of people who see no benefit in even superficially accepting another culture, and by remaining self-segregated they don’t give the rest of the community a chance to even get to know them.

Whole neighborhoods are described by their ethnic, racial and linguistic similarities. Ethnically and racially separate neighborhoods are not just places where people can share historical customs, they have become like little self-imposed reservations.

That doesn’t inspire a well-rounded, culturally integrated society. It’s like throwing macaroni into the pot while it’s still in the package.

Remember, no matter who makes it, good food relies on the proper combination of ingredients and careful preparation to attain its optimum quality and palatability. So does our nation.

If that requires a cookbook, a recipe and a little more oven time instead of a microwave, so be it.

From → op-ed

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