Kay Hymowitz reviews Melting Pot or Civil War? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders by Reihan Salam.
Global migration is triggering the sort of existential questions advanced nations haven’t had to bother with very much. Aside from lines on a map and a shared language, what makes Denmark Denmark, or Canada Canada? When does citizen-feeling for national culture and identity — not to mention budget concerns — veer into xenophobia? How much should a modern, secular nation tolerate the illiberal customs of newcomers from traditional cultures? As a “nation of immigrants,” one with a relatively modest welfare state, the United States should be safe from these prickly questions. After all, we have long been a hyphenated citizenry; our children are tutored — or are supposed to be — in E pluribus unum.
Yet here we are in the throes of a bitter war over immigration. Everyone knows who the enemy is, or thinks he does: One side points at ethnonationalist racists who cheer budget-busting walls, Muslim bans, caged children and deportations of hard-working parents whose only crime is wanting a better life. The other side sees self-deluded elitist hypocrites who condone criminal border-crossing and extravagant social spending as a way of supplying cheap labor to look after their children and clean their homes — while telling an ailing, law-abiding white working class that its time is up.
In “Melting Pot or Civil War?” Reihan Salam brushes past the familiar hashtag denunciations into less well trod territory to ponder the forgotten question that underlies this standoff: What immigration policies would best inch us toward the elusive goal of a fair and just society? The American-born son of Bangladeshi immigrants, an editor at National Review and The Atlantic, Salam has written a book that is simultaneously a personal reflection, an accessible summary of current research and a nuanced policy discussion. It is also an implicit reprimand, suggesting that when it comes to debating immigration, we’ve been doing it very, very wrong.
Kay S. Hymowitz is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. She is the author of the books Manning Up and most recently The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring a City Back.