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Civic Bulletin
No. 50 November 2007

"You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato": A Right-Left Conversation About Immigrant Integration and Assimilation

This bulletin is adapted from a transcript of a Manhattan Institute forum held in New York City on May 15, 2007.


Tamar Jacoby is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute where she writes on immigration and citizenship. She is the author of Someone Else’s House: America’s Unfinished Struggle for Integration and author and editor of Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What It Means to Be American.

Henry Cisneros became the first Hispanic mayor of a major U.S. city when he was elected mayor of San Antonio in 1981. He served as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration and later became president of Univision. Today, he serves as chairman of CityView, a company that builds low- and moderate-income housing in urban areas.

Phil Kasinitz holds a joint professorship at Hunter College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author of Caribbean New York: Black Immigrants and the Politics of Race and the editor of The Handbook of International Migration.

Noah Pickus is the director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University and teaches at the Terry Sandford Institute of Public Policy and the Fuqua School of Business. His latest book is True Faith and Allegiance: Immigration and American Civic Nationalism.

Margie McHugh is the codirector of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute. Formerly, she served for 15 years as the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

John Fonte is a senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at the Hudson Institute. He has been a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and has also worked for the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

* * *


Good morning. We’re here on what may turn out to be a historic day. Deliberations in the Senate about comprehensive immigration reform are at the nail-biting stage. But we’re not here to talk about comprehensive immigration reform, whether you’re for it or against it. Instead, I would argue that the subject we are here today to talk about is even more important than the technicalities of immigration: and that is what happens to immigrants once they come to America.

What we are talking about today is a very large group of people finding their place here. There are already about 35 million foreign-born people living permanently in the United Stated, and another 1.5 million coming every year to settle. This is about their economic success and social mobility; it’s about our competitiveness as a country. As the Army says, if these immigrants don’t find a way to “be all they can be,” what will happen to the United States? But it’s also about our cohesion as a country. Can we imagine a common future together?

As you may have noticed, I’ve been using the word “it.” I haven’t explicitly mentioned today’s topic because, as important an undertaking as this challenge is, we don’t even have a word to use to talk about it. One part of the political spectrum calls it “assimilation.” Another part of the political spectrum calls it “integration.” Others don’t know what word to use. I would argue that this is one of the greatest challenges facing us as a country—the Sputnik challenge of our era. Yet we can’t even talk about it with each other. The far-right folks talk about it in one tone that tends to be angry and coercive: “We’re going to have to make these immigrants tow the line.” Another group on the far left doesn’t want to talk about it at all. They are not sure it should happen. They ask: “Wouldn’t assimilation mean immigrants having to give up their identities?”

This is one of the greatest challenges we face and we haven’t yet got to the point where we can talk about it, plan for it, or try to think about what we can do to help. That is why I chose to title today’s conference, “You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato.” It’s an intentional pun that reflects the fact that I didn’t know which word to use because I was inviting both right and left and didn’t want to insult either side. I wanted to have a conversation. So that’s what we’re here to talk about today. I feel that both the right and left have failed the immigrants, and failed the nation, by not figuring out a way to talk to each other about this. One side is punitive and one side is afraid to deal with it. What we’re hoping to do here is start a conversation in the middle of the political spectrum where we can begin to talk about it and then start to figure out how to address it.

I’m especially pleased to be introducing Henry Cisneros. Henry is a dear friend and will soon be a colleague as well. We’re going to launch a venture together that will be devoted to trying to help foster immigrant integration and Americanization.

I’m sure you all know Henry Cisneros as the first Hispanic-American mayor of a major U.S. city, San Antonio, Texas, which he led in the 1980s; then, of course, as the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 1997, with lots of accomplishments in between. He is now running a company that builds homes for working families. It’s called CityView. It’s based in San Antonio but they’re building houses all over the country. They have built 6,000 homes in 14 states including 300 to be opened in New Orleans this coming weekend. I could go on and on telling you about his many accomplishments but, without further ado, please join me in welcoming Henry Cisneros.

It is a treat to be here at Tamar’s invitation. I am a great admirer of her intellectual energy. It’s also an honor to be an invitee of the Manhattan Institute, whose work I’ve admired over the years. I’d like to say a few words this morning not just about immigration but, in particular, on the subject of what I like to refer to as the process of Americanization.

We all know the significance of immigration in our society. I serve on the board of an organization called the Merage Foundation, which every year honors immigrants who are having a positive impact on our society. In our first year, we recognized two immigrants who represented the United States in the corridors of world decision making: Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger. We’ve also recognized two sitting governors: Governor Granholm of Michigan and Governor Schwarzenegger of California. Additionally, we have recognized the leaders of American companies like Intel and Yahoo. In fact, I saw a recent listing of 121 major American companies that are headed by immigrants. I suspect this trend will accelerate in the years to come as globalization brings more people across seamless borders in the realms of business and finance—and sheer talent will determine who heads entities like those 121 companies.

Let us take a moment to look ahead to the future and try to understand the demographics of our country. The numbers that I’m going to cite for you are not about immigrants per se. They are more about demographic change. But they’re important because they describe where America is going and what it is going to look like. Today, there are about 300 million Americans. In 2000, according to the Census, we had 280 million people. We’re growing rapidly—the number of people in the United States grew by 20 million over the past seven years. The midrange estimates tell us that in 2050 there will be about 410 million people. So we will have gone from 280 million in 2000 to 410 million in 2050, an increase of 130 million people in 50 years.

The breakdown of that 130 million new Americans will be something like this: 18 million will be traditional white Americans; 25 million will be African-Americans. Twenty-seven million—a larger number than the African-American growth—will be Asian-Americans, and these new Asian-Americans will include an interesting mix. America’s growing Asian population is not just Chinese and Japanese but includes a substantial number of Filipinos, Indians, and Pakistanis, as well as newer immigrants coming from Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and many other nations in the Pacific. As many as 63 million of the new Americans will be Latinos from a range of different countries. The largest number, probably 70 percent, will be from Mexico.

Let me say again that these figures are not fundamentally about immigration. They are about two other dynamics that are very important in understanding demographics: family size and the average age of certain populations. Minority families tend to be substantially larger than non-minority families. Only ten percent of Americans live in a family that has over five people. But over 25 percent of Latinos live in a family with more than five household members. In addition, the minority population is a lot younger than the non-minority population.
This combination of youthfulness and family size will result in the numbers and the demographic changes that I’ve just described. Some people worry about the size of the minority population. In fact, when I was president of Univision, which is a Spanish-language broadcasting company, I went to a media conference at the Waldorf-Astoria and was describing similar demographic changes as a reason for the growth of that company. When I finished my presentation a lady at the back of the room raised her hand for the first question. I recognized her and she stood up and asked, “Well, can’t somebody do something about this?”

I was trying to describe these demographic changes as a relatively positive thing, but she was petrified by these numbers. The fact of the matter is that the answer to her question is “no,” because nothing can be done about these numbers. This is the shape of America’s future, and it is as much a function of what I’ve described—youthfulness and family size—as it is an indication of the declining size of the traditional American population, which is reaching zero population growth.

If you look, for example, at the population distribution of Texas or California by race, the white population looks like a barrel with the fattest portion of it, that is to say the most numerous, at the 45- to 55-year range and moving northward of that. The minority population distribution, particularly the Latino distribution, looks like a sideways pyramid, with the fattest portion, that is to say the largest number of people, at age zero to 20. All you have to do is drive by a central city school at recess time to see what the future of the country looks like.

Some people are worried about this. But let me give you another kind of take on the significance of this for our country. I have a longstanding relationship with some folks in Japan. In San Antonio we just opened a 1.3-billion-dollar Toyota plant in our city, which was the result of a 15-year courtship. I’ve been traveling to Japan and meeting with top Japanese governmental and business officials for many years to try to get this deal done. During my last trip, I met with a business association akin to a national Chamber of Commerce and these Japanese business leaders were wringing their hands over a phenomenon that is just beginning to occur: Japan’s population has peaked and is starting to decline, and the nation is aging dramatically.

This scenario is not all that different from what other countries such as France, Italy, and Germany are confronting. They have peaked in population and will soon begin to decline. They will also have to confront the issues associated with being a decidedly older society—issues related to how they will fund their health and social security systems, and staff key institutions like their militaries. These are tough issues because these countries have not been immigrant societies. Northern industrial societies are aging because they have been homogeneous and prosperous. We will have serious problems in the United States, but that issue will not be our problem because we have been an immigrant society, and we’re going to have youthful energetic workers filling in behind our older traditional populations.

Let’s talk about the American future. I will tell you, of all of my associations, and there are many—I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’m a Catholic, I’m a Democrat, I’m a Texas Aggie, I’m a lot of things—at the heart of it, the most important thing to me, my principal identity, is as an American. I love this country. Born here of immigrant parents, I have dedicated myself to all things American: from Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, through the United States Army, to service in a national administration. The identity I most cherish is that which is associated with being an American.

But I will also tell you that I worry about the future of our country. I want our country to be as strong as it can be, for as long as it can. I’m a student of history and I’ve studied the Greek and Roman periods of dominance. Now I study the United States. I study our 200-plus years of presence on the world scene, and the last century or so of real strength. That’s a short time in the long span of world history. I would like this country to be a beacon to the world. And I think this question of demographics, immigration, and assimilation of the next generation of immigrants goes right to the heart of how America continues to be strong and continues to reinvent itself, how it continues to adhere to what we would think of as American values.
Integration is the heart of the answer to these questions because we’re not going to be able to remain strong if the next generation of immigrants is relegated to a permanent underclass. If we fail to help them develop their skills, their education, their capacities, it will cause their trajectory into American society to be different than that of immigrants in the past. That will be a major impediment to the kind of fluidity, upward mobility, and societal strength that we want to build for the future.

This society is more complex than it’s ever been. When immigrants came here at the turn of the last century they didn’t have to confront the reality of functioning in a complex system of financial services, educational imperatives, and a workplace that requires increasingly technical skills. In my experience, I’ve found that it is a harder country for immigrants to be able to integrate into today—and there are fewer supports for immigrants than at the turn of the last century.

When Lithuanians, Poles, and Hungarians came to Chicago, they were met by political organizations at the street level that brought them coal in the winter and turkeys at Thanksgiving, in order to make them part of the political system. When they arrived in those neighborhoods in Chicago, there were parish leaders at churches that wanted them to be part of the congregation. Drive through Chicago sometime and you can count 15 churches with one sweep of the eye. Every neighborhood had its parish church that aggressively sought to bring newcomers into the social structure.

Robert Putnam and others have documented well the breakdown of the so-called civil society institutions, and the result is that there are no street-level organizations that bring the immigrants into the process today. They’re pretty much on their own. They do group around churches and neighborhood organizations, and there are services for them in the community development and neighborhood corporations. But too frequently there is no Americanization component. There is only the process of legalization. If, during this legalization process, any comments are made to immigrants about the United States at all, they are often hostile. That’s not what immigrants need and that’s not what they want to hear.

I live in one of the poorest Census tracts of San Antonio in a home that has been in my family for generations. I see the most recent arrivals out on the street at the church one block away. These are people who may be here just a matter of days. And I can tell you what those immigrants want is affirmation that they made the right decision. They’ve come a long way. They walked across the desert. They have ridden trucks and trains to get here. Few Americans ever have to make that kind of choice. And, when they get here, they do not need to hear that the United States is somehow wrong in its position in the world. What they need is help integrating so they can make their full contribution. This latest generation of immigrants wants the same thing that immigrants wanted throughout American history.

Let me speak for a moment about the Latino component. These are hardworking, entrepreneurial people, who want the right things for their families. These are people who want to make a contribution in this country, and we need them. One Sunday I was in Phoenix and went to church at the cathedral downtown, which is now a 100 percent Latino service. The priest recognized me and asked me to stand with him at the back of the church and greet people. And every single person that I greeted was involved in some aspect of a construction business. Maybe it was just that certain mass, but every Martinez, Hernandez, Ramirez, and Gutierrez whom I met had callused hands, blue jeans, dirty work boots, big belts, and had a pickup truck in the parking lot with a sign that said Martinez and Sons, and they introduced me to their son who was working with them, their daughter who was keeping the books, and their wife.

I can tell you at a personal level how gripping it was for me to see these hardworking people, who so much of the country doesn’t understand. Now it is also painful when I see a list like the one that I described from the Merage Foundation that listed 121 businesses run by immigrants. Only one of the 121 was a Latino, a Cuban; one out of 121. It suggests to me a kind of bifurcation in the way we think about immigrants. There are immigrants to whom we give H1B visas who are technology people, who come to staff Silicon Valley companies and New York financial companies. Then there are the new immigrants whom we haven’t yet figured out how to provide with the skills and support systems that will enable them to rise into the mainstream of American society.

The only way we create the possibility that they and their children will be the bearers of the American future is by creating the support systems and the education system that keeps America a fluidly classless and upwardly mobile society. That’s the reason that Tamar and I are working with colleagues to create a new organization called “Our Pledge,” whose focus will be twofold. One focus will be to bring the message of the importance of Americanization to the immigrants, as well as the larger society, and to make clear to them that their best hope is to sign on to the American idea with no reservations. The other focus will be to actually reach out through a network of affiliates, allies, church groups, and community development groups to bring an Americanization theme or regimen on top of the legalization and social services that are now being offered. Our goal is to change the conversation and go beyond the language of assimilation, acculturation, or integration, and offer immigrants a modern version of Americanization.

The message to the immigrants will be one that says over 15 years—and we could quibble over how much time it takes—you should commit to learning the English language, being fluent, and becoming a citizen. You should also sign on to the financial system; that means having financial literacy, retirement savings, and homeownership. These elements are essential to being part of the American middle class. You should commit to a program that recognizes that your children should do better than you have, which means becoming committed to their education and involved in their school. This is a 15-year program that should encourage immigrants to sign on to the American notion of the rule of law—that this is a government of laws, not of men—and encourage civic participation and involvement in community activities.

There’s also a reciprocal message for the general society as well: American society must keep the doors to the middle class open. Opportunities for people to become homeowners and to have excellence in the public schools are critical stepping stones to the traditional American middle class. If we close that door, then we have doomed ourselves to a segmented society and we have truncated the possibilities that America’s best days are still ahead. My most fervent belief is that America’s best days are yet to come, when we unleash the capabilities of men and women of all ethnic groups and races, origins, and economic beginnings and say to them: in this country you can accomplish many things.

It’s an exciting time. This issue is important. I commend you for your concern about it, and thank you for inviting me to speak. I would be delighted to field any questions you may have.

Q & A for Mr. Cisneros

MARTA TIENDA: I’m really delighted that you used the word “Americanization.” What does that mean? To me, it conveys the sense of unity, one nation where diversity may not divide but rather unite. It conveys a message of a two-way street.

MR. CISNEROS: It conveys the most powerful message about integration. I choose to use the word “Americanization.” This is a choice. Those of us who make that choice will pay some price. I will pay some price to my left, as people attack the concept of Americanization. They will say it is presumptuous to tell people that they need to Americanize instead of recognizing their right to be who they want to be and make choices about their own identifications.

But my vision is not of some sort of transnational America. It is not some sort of borderless Artic Circle-to-Patagonia concept of the Americas. It is not some sort of “brotherhood of man” idea. The message that I want to send is that there are a set of values that we call American values, which are not only fundamental to being an American but, by the way, are also helpful in getting ahead in this country.

In recent years the American left has entered the movement toward political correctness, and has become unwilling to use the word Americanization. But Americanization is what has worked in the past. This is the American credo, if you will. But the modern Americanization is not just about studying the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, although those are important elements. The modern Americanization is also about how to fit into a complex, financially interwoven, technologically literate society; how to apply American values to this modern framework. That’s what I think needs to be done, and that’s what a modern Americanization program would do.

LARRY MEAD: The thing that disturbs me about your viewpoint is that you lay responsibility for your Americanization entirely on society. Don’t the individual immigrants have a responsibility?

MR. CISNEROS: I have to take issue with your characterization of what I have discussed. I talked explicitly about a reciprocal understanding or relationship in which immigrants make certain pledges. Our effort is being called “Our Pledge,” which is a play on our Pledge of Allegiance to this country and what it stands for. Our organization, Our Pledge, would say to immigrants that they must act on a life program. We said 15 years, because that’s about what it takes to get through the citizenship process. They should save enough money to become a homeowner and start a retirement program. If you start with low wages, it takes you a while to get there. But the pledge includes learning the English language, involving yourself with your children’s school, and a commitment to duty in this nation, including military service if the opportunity presents itself. I thought I was fairly clear about what an immigrant’s commitment to the society would look like.

Although I cannot speak for every immigrant from the one hundred nations that come to this country, my sense is that Latinos, in particular, are ready to sign on to a program of self-improvement and self-commitment. It is true that the first generation works very hard and we see some breakdown as later generations take on some of the characteristics of the society in which they reside. For example, when immigrants move into the poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles that are gang-infested and where the schools are failing, the second generation often takes on some of the negative attributes of those neighborhoods. But people start with a desire to work hard, pay their taxes, and, given the opportunity, they will take it and they will rise.

I spent yesterday morning with a New Yorker who is one of the great heroes of our country today. His name is Geoffrey Canada and he runs something called the Harlem Children’s Zone. He was describing to me his view of a law of gravity that occurs when young people are surrounded by gang members and drug dealers and attend failing schools. Mr. Canada’s law of gravity says that these negative forces work to pull children down. But, if they experience a positive change in the neighborhood around them and their set of expectations, they will rise. Mr. Canada has 122 young people graduating this month from that Harlem neighborhood and going on to some of the best colleges in the country. Part of what we’re talking about is changing the psychology, conversation, and expectations, so that the law of gravity can be inverted and create the momentum to rise.

TOM HAYES: What are your feelings on establishing an accelerated path to citizenship through service in the military? Could such an idea close our military shortages and offer training so that, after their stint in the military, immigrants are integrated into our economy and provide value to society?

MR. CISNEROS: I’m a big fan of the military. As a veteran myself, I know the socializing effect military training can have on young people. This socialization is particularly important to young men who traditionally rise out of central city and other poverty environments and learn leadership skills, a sense of belonging, loyalty to this country, and a sense of patriotism that remains in them for the rest of their life and gives them a completely different trajectory. I could cite one hundred different examples, including my own family where five of my relatives, my dad and four of his brothers, rose from the farm country of Brighton, Colorado and ended up serving in the Pacific. All of them did wonderful things in their lives after military service. I’m a big fan of this idea. Most Americans don’t know the number of people who are not citizens that serve in the military. There are processes by which you become a citizen with service. Your suggestion that this could be accelerated is an avenue we should explore. The military could gain from this. It would reward people for their service, build on our best values, and create leaders. That process is long honored in our country, and accelerating it strikes me as a good thing and something we ought to pursue.

* * *

Now that Henry has inspired us about the importance of grappling with this challenge, we have a panel of distinguished experts to address how we’re going to meet it. I’ve been in this field now for over a decade, and you rarely go to a meeting about immigration where somebody doesn’t start to talk about integration or assimilation. It’s increasingly recognized in this country that it is a challenge. But there isn’t a very developed discourse about how we achieve it. For years people have been talking about the fact that we need to develop an integration policy, but nevertheless, years later, we don’t have an integration policy. Instead, integration is mostly left to families, neighborhood groups, churches, and individuals to make their own way.

I spend a lot of time in Europe asking Europeans about how they handle their immigrant integration or assimilation question. And it’s striking: virtually every country in Western Europe has a very developed integration policy with lots of money spent, classes offered, bureaucracies, and requirements. But, despite the fact that they spend a lot of money and effort on it, most countries in Europe are having a fairly hard time with integration. Most European countries don’t actually understand what it means to be a country of immigrants. I would argue that they have the words but they do not quite have them to music yet.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S. we have the music down pretty well, but we don’t yet have the words. We don’t offer classes. We don’t have any kind of policy. We’re not helping people. But today’s immigrants are still doing fairly well and I think it’s important at a conference like this to highlight the fact that we’re not a talking about a looming crisis.

We’re not talking about a permanent underclass. We might be talking about people who aren’t rising fast enough, but I don’t believe that we’re heading, even in the worst-case scenario, for a permanent underclass. Nor do I believe we’re heading for balkanization. We’re not heading for Yugoslavia and we’re not heading for Quebec.

The danger we might be facing is an America where a quarter of the population or more is not doing as well as they can. If a quarter of the population is Latino in 2050 and they’re not rising up socially the way immigrants traditionally have risen in the past, that will be a serious problem for America. So let’s be clear: we are not talking about an apocalyptic doomsday issue here, but we are talking about an important challenge for the country.

Here are a few of the hard questions that I hope this panel will face: What exactly are we talking about? What do we mean when we talk about Americanization or integration? How are we going to make Americanization or integration happen?

I think traditionally there have been two ways of thinking about integration. One is a way that emphasizes what I would call objective behaviors or functioning. Are immigrants learning the language? How well are they doing in school? Are they rising up the socio-economic ladder? And then there’s another school that tends to think of integration in terms of belonging and loyalty. The questions they ask are: Do immigrants feel that they’re Americans? When immigrants think in terms of “us” and “them,” who do they consider “us” and who do they consider “them”? I hope the panel will talk about these two definitions of integration: the rising up socially definition verses the belonging definition.

I’m also hoping that we are going to have a conversation about how we encourage and spur integration, especially if we believe integration is about belonging. Who can spur it? How do we help people without forcing them or encouraging dependency? Who’s going to pay for all this? These are hard questions; I’m glad I brought other smart people here to answer them.

I agree with Tamar that it is time we turn our attention toward this issue of incorporation. I use the word incorporation for the simple reason that it is the most neutral one I could come up with. But I’m fairly willing to go with Americanization.

The problem, of course, is Americanization has a history and we don’t always want to buy all of that history. A globalized society and a globalizing world are issues that we really have to cope with now. In many ways, the left has tended to exaggerate the negative effects of globalization on economic life, and the right tends to exaggerate the negative effects of the globalization of the labor market, which is immigration.

We spend an awful lot of time arguing politically about the technical issues of the actual process of immigration itself. We argue about issues of who’s going to come in, how many are going to come in, under what conditions do we want to stop somebody from coming in, and whether to build walls to stop them from coming in. But I think if you look at the deep emotions that the issue of immigration stirs today in this country, it’s not because people are really concerned about the mechanics or the exact numbers of people who are crossing the borders. It is about the question of what types of Americans the new immigrants are going to become or, more importantly, what sort of Americans their children are going to become.

I have an interest in that proposition since I’ve been involved for the last decade in a book about the children of immigrants. One of the reasons I got involved in studying the children of immigrants is that I think that it is where the rubber meets the road on this issue. The people who came here as small kids, or were born here with immigrant parents, have to figure out America for themselves. They are in that very interesting but difficult position of trying to become part of a society that their own parents did not grow up in.

Integration is going to be the issue for the next half-century even if we can magically make immigration stop tomorrow. If an effective wall went up and suddenly there were no more immigrants, we would still be facing the question for the next half-century. So it’s about time that we started thinking in terms of policy.

I’d like to talk very quickly about a couple of headlines in my forthcoming book about the children of immigrants. I will start with a couple of quick headlines about what I think is going on in New York and then offer some ideas about where we’ve got to go in the future. We began this project—Mary Waters of Harvard, John Mollenkopf, my colleague at the CUNY Graduate Center, and myself—a long time ago with the fear, common in social science literature in the last decade, that there was a real danger regarding the emergence of what Princeton University professor Alejandro Portes initially called the “rainbow underclass.”

Portes and others were pointing out that there were some real elements of the immigrant population where we could expect real upward mobility, but they were also pointing out that a significant portion of the immigrant population was becoming part of an underclass that was joining native minority groups that are not performing all that well from socio-economic standpoint. Subsequently, these immigrants and their children were being locked out of permanent opportunity structures.

The good news is that our research shows that, in New York at least, for the people who are now young adults, this underclass scenario has not occurred. The incorporation evidence is fairly overwhelming. By and large, the children of immigrants are working and, by and large, they’re earning more than their parents. Almost all are working in mainstream parts of the economy, not in the same jobs as their parents, which is interesting because it means that although the “Martinez and Sons” construction companies that Henry Cisneros referenced are obviously one route of upward mobility, that route turns out to be fairly unusual in New York.

For the book we looked at a number of different ethnic groups in New York, and the results were quite interesting. For example, when we looked at the children of Chinese immigrants, we found that their rates of getting arrested are staggeringly low. Sociologists will tell you that there should be a certain amount of deviance. For other groups, particularly black immigrants and Latinos, the rates of arrest for the children of immigrants are quite a bit higher than those of their immigrant parents, but also a lot lower than those of the native minorities. In fact, they’re almost identical to those of native whites their age.

While one would like the rate of arrest for the children of immigrants to be lower, it’s also important to recognize that you can’t promote assimilation and only expect them to assimilate the good stuff. At a certain point people are going to turn into Americans, and I am proud to say that I think that’s a good thing, but there are going to be some downsides to that. Our young people get arrested at pretty high rates compared with other countries. We have a large number of divorces, and we don’t save enough money. We should work on all of those things, but we shouldn’t consider those as the problems of the children of immigrants. I don’t think you can give immigrants a hard time for starting to look more like us if you’re really concerned about assimilation.

I would also say that, by and large, immigrant parents do not need to be convinced that they need to work hard so that their children have better lives than they do. Overwhelmingly, that’s why they came here, and overwhelmingly, that’s something that is their highest priority. What they often need help on is how do to it. As a public school parent I have to tell you that navigating the New York City public schools is not easy. As a Ph.D.-educated educator, and third generation in this country, I have a hard time figuring out how that system works, so I can understand that less-educated immigrants often can’t make heads or tails of the system. But what’s interesting is comparing how different immigrant groups navigate the system.

Chinese immigrants in New York are amazingly successful in the educational system and, of all the groups we’ve looked at, they are most likely to be in the public schools. They’re actually less likely than native African-Americans to leave the public schools for private schools. Not only are they much more likely to be in public schools, but they are much more likely to figure out ways to make the public school system work for them. It turns out that the best guides to the public school system are in the Chinese newspapers. They were the only newspapers in New York that covered school board elections in the last years and a very substantial amount of the advertising is for tutoring services, after-school classes, and test-taking services.

Working on the book, I had to get people to translate the newspapers because I’m an American, so therefore my language skills are terrible. That’s another thing we assimilate in this country: the inability to learn foreign languages. This is the downside to the fact that America has been extremely effective in teaching people English. We interviewed 3,200 people from the second generation, and we asked each of them if they would rather speak in their parents’ native language or would they rather speak in English. Three people out of 3,200 said they would prefer the interview to be conducted in their parents’ native language. A couple of others would occasionally switch back to their parents’ native language for a certain conversation, but then quickly switch back to English. So that is another big lesson from the book: overwhelmingly, the children of immigrants are learning English.

In our research we did find some bad news, or at least mixed news. While we started out worried about the potential downward mobility of illegal immigrants, we ended up more worried that the relative success of the children of immigrants was, in fact, obscuring just how badly some of the native African-American and Puerto Rican populations were doing. Whether it’s misguided solidarity or just ignorance, the fact that we’re using terms like black, Hispanic, or persons of color rather than specifying national origins in a lot of our data has actually obscured the extent to which a certain real underclass has formed in some of the native minority populations and in the Puerto Rican population.

If you look at the institutions that were set up specifically to address the problems within minority populations in recent decades and look at who those institutions now serve, you’ll find that it’s overwhelmingly the children of immigrants. That’s not a bad thing. If these institutions are incorporating the children of immigrants it is very good. But it doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily addressing the issues of the groups that they were originally set out to address. I think that’s an important point.

One change we’ve noticed is that, in New York, our immigrant population is more Mexican than it was when the people who we’re studying now first arrived in this country. Mexicans are now about half the foreign-born population in the United States, and about 95 percent of the politics of immigration. All of the things that you hear people talking about are focused on the southern border. In many ways, we increasingly have two different immigration situations: one is the Mexico situation and the other is the 140 other countries of the world that make up the rest of the immigrant population. These groups are pointing in different directions and I think that they do have different concerns.

My real fear relates to the question of the increased numbers of the undocumented. There are about 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. There are also two to three million U.S. citizens who are being raised by those 12 million undocumented people. It is a real problem when you have two to three million children being raised by parents who have no political voice in communities, who are isolated from public participation for legal reasons, and who cannot take advantage of some of the things that the people that we studied took advantage of to help integrate in New York. We have to start thinking about how to integrate these children into this society. That is the real danger of an underclass. That is what we have to be worried about at this point.

Tamar has asked me to give the historical perspective on Americanization and what happened 100 years ago. And I want to start by locating us in a room not very different from this.

In 1909, in New York City, a group of businessmen and other leaders in the area came together and formed the National Americanization Committee. The National Americanization Committee was what we would today call a public-private partnership. It was a range of organizations. It had relations to government, but it wasn’t directed by government. It was one of the key parts of this Americanization movement that touched school boards, unions, employers, parent-teacher associations, state and federal agencies, and what we today call the voluntary associations. The Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution were represented. The mechanics were represented.
What pulled them together initially were worries—worries and anxieties. They were concerned about corruption and political reform. They were concerned about protective workforce legislation. They were concerned about the devaluation of American citizenship; some believed that the immigrants didn’t want to become citizens—or wanted to become citizens only because they wanted the benefits. They were concerned about naturalization and they worried that the political machines that Secretary Cisneros spoke of were corrupt. By the way, those political organizations did a great job getting my grandparents into this country and acculturated.

These wide-ranging concerns drove the National Americanization Committee and hundreds of groups like it across the country. They were worried not only about the massive influx in immigration, but also about the movement of African-Americans into the North. They were worried about the vigorous entry of women into politics. They were worried about things like the concentration of authority in our economy and the lack of political control. They were worried about the effects of science. In other words, there was a crisis of confidence at the time in which immigration was a key issue, but there was also a much larger question about all of these changes and challenges taking place at the same time. It was a question of whether American citizens were up to all these tasks in the in the twentieth century.

The Americanization movement of the teens and twenties gave a resounding answer to these concerns. The answer was a confident, progressive kind of reform. Despite the doubts they had about immigrants, the changing economy, and themselves, they had the confidence, to use an oxymoronic term, “to make people natural.” We would naturalize immigrants in the sense of bringing them into the body politic, making them part of the American polity, and, in doing so, use the vehicles not only of immigrant groups but of American society to reinvigorate doubts about our own flagging capacity as citizens.

That sense of confidence was countered by those who were deeply dubious about our ability to manage our affairs and about the influx of southern and eastern Europeans. They believed that the right approach was to close the doors to immigration. What I think is important for our purposes today is to recognize that, at that time, those in the Americanization movement also represented a kind of left-right coalition. In fact, they were brought together in that room in 1909 by a woman named Frances Keller who had studied at the University of Chicago, had worked with Jane Addams in the settlement houses in the Midwest, and had become a key political advisor to Teddy Roosevelt. She was the Tamar Jacoby of her day. For about ten or fifteen years she sought to coordinate those different groups, but ultimately they split apart.

What I want to talk about today is the two approaches that were taken by that left-right coalition, what happened, and what lessons we might draw from that. The left side of that coalition was represented by intellectuals like John Dewey, Jane Addams and the settlement house movement, and lots of other aligned organizations.

What Addams represented was often not well understood, and it’s worth dwelling on it for a moment. It was not a bureaucratic approach to dealing with immigrants’ needs, nor was it based on the notion that all immigrants needed to become an American was to learn the lofty principles of the American creed. She didn’t sneer at the creed. She believed it was critical. But she understood that you needed more than principles alone. She understood that you need to meet immigrants’ immediate needs and concerns about neighborhoods, family unity, health care, and education.

Here’s one small example. Addams got herself appointed the garbage inspector of the nineteenth ward in Chicago. Her job was to go out at 6:00 a.m. and make sure that the garbage was picked up. She used this job to reach into the immigrant community and form relationships with the mothers. She understood that there were structural issues that needed to be addressed. There were problems with basic garbage collection in the immigrant neighborhoods. But she also understood that there were aspects of immigrant behavior that were contributing to that and there were unsanitary conditions in the homes. There were things that immigrant mothers didn’t understand and they needed to change.

Addams worked both at that individual behavioral level and at the structural policy level. She did this in such a way that it added a notion of common civic engagement where people worked together and formed the emotional bonds that come from a shared experience. In other words, there’s a practical dimension here, but there’s also a rights and responsibilities dimension. Addams understood that becoming an American also had an emotional dimension which came, in part, from the common experience. Sometimes that experience was in the military, and sometimes it was in the settlement houses.
The single most impressive group that I see out there today that is replicating anything close to what Jane Addams did is the evangelical churches. They have a very clear self-interest: they want to save souls and convert parishioners to their style of worship. But they’re also providing practical services, helping people in their communities, and they’re full of passion and emotion about the common experience of working together.

The right side of the left-right coalition I’ve been talking about was represented by people like Teddy Roosevelt. If you go back and read his speeches, you will hear him say that we cannot have the policy of laissez-faire; he thought that was vicious. Teddy Roosevelt said, “If an immigrant doesn’t know justice, he cannot believe in loyalty.” This is Roosevelt saying we have to do more. We can’t just leave them alone. But he didn’t leave it at that. He also made significant demands on immigrants. His demands may be uncomfortable for some of us today. He did not believe in hyphenated Americanism at all. He completely rejected dual citizenship. He wanted immigrants to understand that they had to learn English and become American or there would be penalties. In fact, if they didn’t learn English, they would be deported. These are not friendly demands. These are very strict demands. It was a demanding Americanization, and it was also an exclusionary one in many ways, particularly toward Asians, but it was one that was also clearly oriented against a policy of leaving immigrants alone and in favor of integrating them into society.

What are some of the outcomes and lessons from this? One thing that I’ve mentioned is that Americanization has a lot of different dimensions. It’s about civic principles, civic engagement, commonality, and forging an emotional bond. As Secretary Cisneros mentioned, it’s about what it means to be an American, not being embarrassed to say that, and clarifying the bargain. By bargain, we mean what American immigrants owe us in return. I think that is unclear, not only to Americans today, but to immigrants. This is a hard question that we have to come to terms with. The demands of a Roosevelt-type approach also worked a little magic in some ways. It’s no accident that the despised Irish of the early twentieth century eventually became part of FDR’s coalition that emphasized the fact that we’re all Americans, that we have to have a shared American identity, and that includes a certain economic floor to what it means to be an American citizen. Over 20 years, that’s a remarkable transformation.

Of course, there are risks to Americanization. The hyper-nationalism of World War I brought about much harsher views regarding immigration, and both the Addams-style integration and the Roosevelt-style integration were deemed to be insufficiently robust. What happened then is we decided to close the doors to immigration, rather than deal with the difficulties of incorporating immigrants. And that’s our challenge today—that’s a mistake we don’t want to make again.

I want to talk about some of the policy issues that we’re facing. The first observation I would like to make is that it’s not by accident that these issues regarding integration or assimilation aren’t a rich part of our national debate in Washington around immigration. I think it’s important for everyone to be honest about that, and think about the consequences of that. The people on the right want to believe that we can do this inexpensively, and the people on the left are afraid to admit that it costs any money. Consequently, for the key people on both sides of the debate, it’s a real nuisance to recognize the issues surrounding integration. It drags down what they’re trying to do on the immigration policy side of the debate.

This leads me to my second point which is that on the local level, integration is the number-one issue. Immigration policy is seen in light of how integration is working in local communities. It’s a little offensive to say to some of you in this room, who have devoted your careers to immigrant integration issues—at least in a place like New York—that we’re so behind on integration policies. If you look at civic institutions in New York, our many foundations and community-based organizations, people who are working on school system issues, on higher education, civic participation, the people who are dealing with immigrant integration, all of these people have a lot of expertise on these issues. The problem is that the national debate only wants to talk about numbers and categories. Integration issues are not making their way up into the national debate.

I’d like to just focus on two issues that I hope will ground this conversation in the choices we’re facing at the local level right now. These are a few key issues in local communities around the country. The first is pre-K-through-12 education. If you look at the data nationally, one in five students in U.S. schools is a child of an immigrant. If you look at places like New York or Los Angeles, over 50 percent, and sometimes two-thirds, of students are children of immigrants. If you look at a lot of the new immigrant destination counties around the country, there is a huge impact from immigration. Some of these places had no experience in dealing with immigrants. Certain school systems have transitioned from being mostly native-born white to almost entirely Hispanic in the past five years. It’s an entirely different set of issues to try and address when a school is dealing with limited English proficiency.

In terms of the left-right approach, we’ve been thinking a lot about No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in the context of the impact that a federal immigration reform bill might have on states and localities. There has been a huge outcry from school systems—those with historically high immigrant numbers and those experiencing changes in their immigrant population— because NCLB says that all children, even non-English-proficient recent immigrants, need to be tested, which affects the overall scores for the district.

We need to figure out how to get the testing right. There are children who come into schools in the tenth grade. They receive two years of English language education and they are expected to pass the same English exit exam as children who have been in the system for 12 years. Either it’s too easy an exam for children who have been in the system for 12 years, or it’s probably too hard an exam for children who have been here for only two years.

On the left you have people saying that these exams are unfair and we need to let these children have more time, lighten up on the testing, and have a different approach to how we count their test results. The right would say that this testing philosophy is good, that this is the sort of pressure we wanted to put on schools, and that we want to have a unified standard. If the schools can’t meet it, we’ll find somebody who can, as if the market will somehow create a pipeline of teachers that know how to teach these kids, and the market will somehow create the curriculum that’s needed to teach them.

I think it’s pretty clear that there’s a real problem with both approaches to trying to help kids like this succeed. There’s a huge issue with curriculum. I think New York has a lot to teach other parts of the country right now, particularly in the new destination states. There’s a very big issue in some of the new destination states with how to teach these children who don’t learn English by magic. At the Migration Policy Institute, we’re talking to four states—North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia—about working together to develop a teaching college program to try to get more certified English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers. I just want to point out that there are very big issues in K-12 education that should be beyond politics, and both sides are getting it wrong. I think we can all agree that these are children we need to educate. They’re an enormous part of the future workforce. It does us absolutely no good as a society to not educate these children.

Right now, under various federal reimbursement programs, states get about $136 per child who has limited English proficiency. You can imagine what it feels like for education officials in states and localities to witness this tremendous change in the immigrant population and then learn that only $136 per kid in federal aid is on the way. In past years, particularly during the legalization program that happened under President Reagan, there were amazingly generous aid programs that helped fund a variety of the costs that state and local economies were incurring as a result of unauthorized immigrants.

Let me move to the issue of adult English-language acquisition. We can all agree that this is something that both the left and the right want to see happen. We used to say in my work in New York that learning English was the most effective antipoverty program for immigrants. I know some of you have united neighborhood houses and are still working very hard to increase the amount of money that’s going to quality programs in this area. We need to provide opportunity but we also need to have higher expectations of immigrants in terms of the discipline to follow through with classes. Frankly, learning a foreign language as an adult is hard, and we don’t do anybody a service by acting like all you need is a six-month course at your local church a few nights a week.

If you look at Census data regarding the number of people who are here both as lawful permanent residents and people who are unauthorized, we need to provide several billion new hours of English- language instruction over the next seven years. To learn English it requires somewhere between 300 to 600 hours per person, depending on the profile of person you’re talking about. On the left, you have proposals that represent what I call the “fire hose” approach. They say, “Let’s throw a few hundred million dollars a year at this problem.” The left basically makes this money a giveaway of formula grants to states, so that just by having a body that needs to learn English in your state you get money. The right makes proposals for things like a $500 fee that the immigrant would pay, and then that becomes a voucher to go look for classes. You can imagine how little someone will get with $500.

Adult education is plagued by problems with teacher certification and quality curriculum. I’m proud of a lot of the programs here in New York that have been chosen by immigrants on their own or with leadership from the city. The Department of Youth and Community Development is a place that has really tried to work to upgrade the quality of what they’re doing, and I think people from around the country have a lot that they can learn from us on this.

This is such an important moment for the reform of adult education around the country. No matter what we do on the issue of immigration reform, it’s going to result in tremendous new demand on the adult education system all around the country. Almost all of us have a reason to be unhappy with how the system is functioning, particularly at the community college level. It is a system we’re going to rely on more and more as we deal with the rise of the Indian and the Chinese economies. We know that we’re going to have to have more of our workers “up-skilled” in the course of their careers.
There’s a lot of reluctance to invest money in this adult education system now, with standards where they are. I annoy a lot of people by saying I think we need an NCLB for the adult education system. We need much stricter standards with regard to who is teaching and what they’re teaching. At this moment it’s very discouraging. All we have are stereotypical left or right proposals that contain none of the nuances needed to make the progress we need to make on these issues.

I’ll just end by saying that since you’re all New Yorkers, I hope you all know that once we get past the ideological left-right stuff, there are complex systems underneath and they’re really different state-by-state. We’re just losing so much time by not getting to those issues. We have a moment right now, with this immigration reform debate, when there could be more money available for these systems, and I believe it’s critical that we get it right.

There’s a book available from our organization, the Migration Policy Institute, called Securing the Future. There’s a chapter in it about the money that we put in to state legalization-impact assistance grants during the 1986 immigration reform. This was billions of dollars that came down through the systems, and it left nothing in its wake. We got none of the benefits that we could have gotten from that program because we didn’t do any of this thinking beforehand. Let’s not make that mistake again. People from the local level who are concerned about these issues must exert some influence on the national debate—and must show policymakers in Washington the reality of where we need it to be.

I was going to start off today by attacking the word integration, because I think it’s basically a weasel word. But I have been very delighted and heartened to hear the word Americanization used a lot today. Over the last couple of years I’ve talked about “patriotic assimilation” and developed a theory on it. But the best word of all is Americanization. Tamar asked us to respond to what Americanization is, but I’ll use assimilation here because it’s a little easier. I will define what it is first, and then talk about how we encourage it and who should encourage it.

There are different types of assimilation. Certainly one worth talking about is linguistic assimilation, or the learning of English. In order to function in society, learning English is, obviously, necessary. Then there’s what you call economic assimilation, which is when you have a job, you’re gainfully employed, and joining the middle class. Then there’s cultural assimilation. Phil Kasinitz noted earlier that this comes with positives and negatives. You can be assimilated into Britney Spears and popular culture. This sort of thing happens when people become Americans. There’s also civic integration, which sometimes means the immigrant is integrated into our political system, votes, pays taxes, and participates in public life in some way. All of these are important, but I’m going to discuss why they’re not really quite enough.

I talk about patriotic assimilation, or Americanization. Patriotic assimilation is essentially adopting the story of America—adopting the narrative, as academics would call it. To give a hypothetical example, let’s take an eighth-grade girl, a Korean studying American history. She’s studying the constitutional convention in Philadelphia. She may think: “That’s something that was done 200 years ago, before my Korean ancestors came to the United States. That’s something that white males did.” That’s not patriotic assimilation. But if she thinks: “We Americans developed this Constitution,” then she’s adopting the story of America. Of course, she doesn’t have to agree or support everything we’ve done. When learning about the Mexican-American War, this hypothetical Korean girl may think: “Well, I would have agreed with Lincoln, I would have been against the war.” And that is fine. Americans do argue about their history. But she should adopt the story of America as her own—that is the key to patriotic assimilation.
How should we encourage Americanization? Woodrow Wilson encouraged it. He declared July the 4th and July the 5th, 1915, to be national Americanization days. He sent his cabinet and his political supporters out and they spoke around the country at naturalization ceremonies on the subject of Americanization. Wilson spoke in Philadelphia, Louis Brandeis spoke in Boston, and others spoke in different places. My favorite Americanization speech is the one Brandeis gave at Faneuil Hall in Boston. We could do something similar today. The Bush administration has started talking about Americanization, as some of us have urged, but it’s getting late in the game at this point.
I want to bring up a few touchy subjects. In some cases with Muslim integration, we’ve seen people who are economically and linguistically assimilated, but not patriotically. Economic and linguistic assimilation is not enough. We saw recently in the case of the Fort Dix terror conspiracy that immigrants were in different categories. Some were legal, some were legal permanent residents, and some were illegal immigrants.

One thing we might want to think about is that, for most of the twentieth century, we did have ideological tests for immigration. After McKinley was assassinated, President Theodore Roosevelt said that he didn’t want any more anarchists coming here. If you believed in anarchy, or if you wrote an article supporting anarchy, you weren’t allowed to immigrate to the United States, which later applied to Nazis and Communists.

Now, in the twenty-first century, I think it makes little sense to have someone who wants to establish Sharia Islamic law in the United States to come in as an immigrant. Obviously, someone who rejects the Constitution and American democracy shouldn’t get an immigration visa. They could possibly get a visa to come here and debate somebody, but they shouldn’t necessarily be getting immigration visas.

What do we do? We need a bully pulpit for national leaders. National leaders from both parties need to talk about Americanization. And we need specific measures. We need a mix of carrots and sticks. Senator Lamar Alexander introduced an amendment to the immigration bill last year. It passed 99 to one. The idea was to support what he called “the patriotic integration of immigrants into the American way of life” and “to study American heroes, including military heroes.” That bill should be passed.

We should reform ESL and civic education. Currently there’s a lot emphasis on how to catch a bus, how to make a doctor’s appointment, other practical questions. As Margie pointed out, these practical concerns should be addressed but there should also be some discussion of American history, the Founders.

I think that for 30 or 40 years in this country—and this is right out of Herman Badillo’s book—there has been a movement toward a multilingual, multicultural, anti-assimilation idea of group preferences for immigrants. This includes bilingual education programs that don’t teach children English. There’s no reason for any of this at this point, so let’s dismantle the anti-assimilation regime that we have in place.

Executive Order 13166 requires that federal documents be translated into foreign languages. Let’s make an effort to dismantle that regime. There’s no reason for people in the United States to be voting in a foreign language. I think any of us could vote properly if we got a foreign-language ballot where we saw “Bush” and “Kerry.”

One other topic that I want to bring up is the issue of citizenship and national allegiance. I want to give you one example that really struck me. In an April Chicago Tribune story titled “Influence on Both Sides of the Border,” a man in charge of the State of Illinois’ new Americanization office [Office of New Americans Policy and Advocacy], Jose Louis Gutierrez, is quoted as saying that “The nation-state concept is changing. You don’t have to say ‘I’m a Mexican,’ or ‘I’m an American.’ You can be a good Mexican citizen and a good American citizen and not have that be a conflict of interest.” I think that’s a problem. I think the head of the new Americanization office should be talking about loyalty to the United States, not loyalty to another country. I don’t think they should be dual citizens. In our citizenship ceremonies we ask new citizens to take an oath of absolute allegiance. We ask them to absolutely renounce all allegiance to a foreign state—and then we tell them that it’s okay to go and vote in another country’s election? Americans should not be running or voting for offices in foreign nations.

I want to close with Theodore Roosevelt, who had a completely different view than the gentleman who heads the office of Americanization in Illinois. About 100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt said: “If the immigrant comes here in good faith, becomes an American and assimilates himself, he shall be treated with the exact equality as anyone else, for it’s an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon that man becoming an American and nothing but an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. Anyone who says he’s an American and something else is not an American at all. We have room for one loyalty—that’s loyalty to the American people.” I think 85 to 90 percent of the American people would still agree with that statement today. That’s Americanization.

I do have to say one thing about the comprehensive immigration reform bill. What we really need is a comprehensive assimilation bill. If the president started with this, he might be having less difficulty. The main problem with the comprehensive immigration reform that we’re seeing today is that, ironically, it’s not comprehensive. It doesn’t deal with assimilation. It doesn’t deal with dual citizenship and it doesn’t deal with bilingual education. If it did, then it might be a real comprehensive assimilation package, and it might be having an easier time. But that’s not what’s out there now. What we really need first is comprehensive assimilation. Then we’ll talk about comprehensive immigration later on.

Center for Civic Innovation.



America is a nation of immigrants. Today, as we welcome the largest influx of newcomers since the turn of the twentieth century, we again face the question of how best to incorporate them and their families into the American social fabric. There is broad consensus that taking effective and vigorous steps to include them is crucial if America is to remain a vibrant and successful nation. The question is how. How has the nation handled immigrant absorption in the past? What are the best means at our disposal today? What is likely to be the most effective strategy? In this bulletin, a distinguished panel of experts discusses how best to meet the challenge of helping today’s newcomers become Americans.



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