More fuel for the immigration debate: The Pew Research Center says immigration will drive the U.S. population sharply upward between now and 2050 — and will push whites into a minority.
The Hispanic population will triple in size to become 29 percent of an American population of 438 million people. Eighty percent of the increase will be due to immigrants and their U.S.-born children.
What will shifting demographics mean for America’s future politics and culture? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the moderators of RedBlueAmerica.com, weigh in.
Before America was a country, Benjamin Franklin was fretting about immigrants. Pennsylvania was being overrun by … Germans.
“Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion,” Franklin asked in a 1751 essay.
Sound familiar? It should. Over the years, similar sentiments — about Italians, Irish and now Hispanics — have been heard during every wave of immigration: New residents cling too tightly to their languages and customs, it is said, refusing to assimilate and become “real” Americans.
Somehow, we’ve survived and thrived.
The historic pattern is repeating itself today: Pew reports that while just 23 percent of first-generation Latino-Americans can carry on a conversation in English, the number rises to 88 percent among their children, and higher yet among their grandchildren. Assimilation is not an instantaneous process, but it it does happen.
So sure: Secure the borders. Crack down on businesses that violate the law. But don’t panic. Yes, our new neighbors will change us. We’ll change them, too. And, as before, we’ll all end up stronger for it.
Should Americans worry that immigrants are changing the country’s demographic makeup? As long as newcomers embrace the principles and institutions of America, there is nothing to fret about. And there’s the rub.
Assimilation doesn’t occur by magic. The sentiments voiced by Franklin and others didn’t float out into the American discourse and disappear into the ether. And America didn’t just survive waves of immigration “somehow” and thrive. Traditionally, patriotic assimilation happened through a fairly rigorous and unapologetic process of civic indoctrination.
Alexander Hamilton, himself an immigrant from the West Indies, insisted that “the safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits; on the exemption of citizens from foreign bias and prejudice; and on the love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education and family.” America’s success, Hamilton argued, would depend on “the preservation of a national spirit and a national character” between native-born and immigrant alike.
What was true in the young republic two centuries ago remains true for the world’s superpower today. The United States should always be open to anyone who seeks to participate in this great experiment in self-government. But never forget that Americans are made, not born.