Among the many divisive issues consuming policymakers this summer, immigration is now center stage. This past week the Senate passed a bill proposing a “pathway to citizenship” for some 11 to 15 million illegal immigrants living in the US. Arguments for and against legalization are mainly centered on economics. Is legalization a net gain or a net drain on the US economy? Will legalization bring in more tax revenue or further strain welfare benefits? Will bringing people “out of the shadows” help or hurt America’s jobs crisis?
Unfortunately, there are other and perhaps more important issues to consider. Chief among them is the notion of culture. While the multiculturalists pretend that culture is either irrelevant—a fictitious social construct—or the legacy of nativist racism, the reality is that culture matters.
Europe provides an excellent example. Over the last few decades Europe has embraced America’s immigration model. European nations opened their borders to millions of immigrants from all over the world, especially the Middle East. The results are consistent across the European continent: sharp social and cultural division between indigenous and immigrant populations.
These divisions are becoming increasingly ferocious and hard to conceal, even by the main stream media that dominates Europe. This summer alone Sweden, Great Britain, and France have experienced potentially explosive social situations. In May, Muslim immigrants ransacked cars, office buildings, and community centers for almost a week, transforming the normally majestic city of Stockholm into an urban inferno.
Different story lines played out in London and Paris but with similar results. In England two Muslim youths attacked and murdered a British soldier in broad day light, violently mauling him to death on video. Within hours, members of the anti-immigrant group the English Defense League (EDL) stormed the streets of London in angry protest. A week later a French soldier was attacked and severely wounded in Paris. In both situations, the respective governments quickly distanced the attackers from their broader immigrant communities and media outlets carefully filtered the storylines to calm public emotions.
Of course these problems are not new. Major riots in immigrant areas erupted in London in 2011 and Paris back in 2005. Tension exists wherever mass immigration has occurred in Europe: Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, even in Greece. Unfortunately, the same tired arguments and familiar culprits such as economic disenfranchisement, Islamophobia or nativist racism are blamed for the melee. However, the obfuscation is gradually giving way to the underlying cultural divisions responsible for what is taking place.
It is not just about Islam versus secularism. It is about differences of language, values, and even legal regimes (Sharia versus sovereign law). In short, integration or assimilation is virtually non-existent in Europe. On the contrary, mass immigration has brought balkanization, segregation, and social disharmony.
How do these issues relate to the United States, the supposed paragon of assimilation where, historically, mass immigration has been a boon to prosperity? The truth is the European experience tracks very closely with America’s worsening immigration problem. Here too, large immigrant communities separate from main stream America have taken root.
These are primarily though not exclusively Hispanic. In these communities, crime is more frequent, illegitimate birth-rates are higher, poverty is more wide-spread, and the spoken language is Spanish rather than English. These should be troubling signs for Washington policymakers. But they are seldom mentioned as serious concerns.
The lesson of mass immigration in Europe, and indeed, throughout the world, is that it erodes national cohesion and inevitably produces conflict. Another lesson is that numbers matter. Immigration on a small scale can be beneficial, especially when immigrants speak the national language, possess marketable skills and education. However, immigration en masse from peoples of foreign cultures bereft of useful skills or even a basic education is simply a failed policy.
That’s right, culture is inescapably important. If huge numbers of a distinct group migrate into another country, they tend to insulate themselves from the broader national culture. In Europe’s case, millions of Muslims retain and reject Western culture (secularism and liberalism) because they can; their large numbers enable and encourage them to establish their own communities. In America’s case, millions—over 40 million since the 1970s—mostly from Latin America have done the same.
In sum, the sure fire way to destroy America’s already wavering social cohesion would be to grant amnesty to 15 million illegal immigrants. Legalization would undoubtedly flood our borders with millions more immigrants, as the 1986 amnesty certainly did. It would also further inflame racial-cultural tensions in the United States, eventually pushing America’s disunion to the breaking point.
Cameron Macgregor is a former naval officer. He is currently a graduate student at George Mason University.