A Nation of Immigrants

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A Nation of Immigrants

The question of what our policy toward the world's huddled masses should be is especially topical at this moment. The Statue of Liberty still lifts her lamp beside the golden door, but in a time of economic downturn, there is no longer an assured consensus that the door should be kept open very far. Restrictionism is back in fashion. For every journalistic article like that of Business Week in July 1992, which notes that "the U.S. is reaping a bonanza of highly educated foreigners" and that low end immigrants "provide a hardworking labor force to fill the low-paid jobs that make a modern service economy run," there is another like Peter Brimelow's in the National Review. His title tells it all: "Time to Rethink Immigration?" The burden of his argument is that America has admitted too many immigrants of the wrong ethnic background (he himself is a new arrival from Britain), that neither our economy nor our culture can stand the strain, and that "it may be time to close the second period of American history [the first having been the era of the open frontier] with the announcement that the U.S. is no longer an ‘immigrant country.'" In short, we're here; you foreigners stay home. Nor are journalists the only voices in the debate. Last August California's governor Pete Wilson got media attention with a proposal to amend the Constitution so as to deny citizenship to an entire class of people born in the United States, namely, those unlucky enough to be the children of illegal immigrants.
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