Sunday, December 16, 2007
Amy Chua, a law professor at Yale Law School, has an interesting op/ed in the Washington Post today about immigration and immigrants. Chua has a little of something for just about everyone, from a proposal that the we declare English the official national language to the claim that the nativists are driving immigrants away from the mainstream.
Chua does contend that, as Samuel Huntington suggests in his book Who Are We?, we should promote immigrant assimilation and a cohesive national identity. I agree. However, what the U.S. needs to do is to think more carefully about things that Chua fails to mention -- such as that we need to provide more ESL classes and should devote the resources so that naturalization petitions are processed in a timely basis. Demand for ESL classes greatly exceeds demand across the United States. Currently, naturalization backlogs are holding up petitions for years. Both of the proposals mentioned above are more likely to promote immigrant assimilation and integration than, for example, declaring English as the official national language and compelling adoption of "American civic virtues." Chua's analysis also fails to acknowledge that (1) most immigrants seek to learn English and that the second generation is largely English proficient; and (2) the naturalization laws require a certain attachment to U.S. civic and constitutional principles (which Chua suggests that immigrants need to adopt).
Immigrant integration will be a key issue for the foreseeable future. We should consider specific policy options that facilitate integration, not attempt to compel it. Unfortunately, the United States has previous experience with compelled assimilation, including efforts to prohibit non-English language and Catholic schools (see, e.g., Meyer v. Nebraska; Pierce v. Society of Sisters), policies designed to convince persons of Mexican ancestry to give up certain cultural traditions (including foods, such as beans), and compulsory English. We would do better to learn from that history rather than repeat it.
UPDATE Citizen Orange takes Chua on in great detail in a post entitled "Amy Chua: Nativism at Yale Law."