America’s ward-heeler-in-chief just bought some votes with the policy equivalent of a keg of beer and a slab of bacon. Obama’s memorandum to Homeland Security head Napolitano to stop the deportation of illegal aliens brought here as children and granting them work permits bypassed Congress, that branch of government our quaint Constitution makes responsible for such policy. Obama said so himself last year when he reminded people that he couldn’t “change the law unilaterally” and “We have to pass bills through the legislature and then I can sign it.” But the need to stanch the bleeding from a week of economic bad news for his reelection campaign has given the president Constitutional amnesia. If Obama had been sincerely interested in crafting a legal, bipartisan, permanent solution to this problem, he could have negotiated with Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who has crafted a more sensible solution than last year’s Dream Act, and worked through Congress. But the need to throw some goodies to Latino voters in several swing states critical for his own reelection was more important than actually governing according to the Constitution.
Obama’s accompanying rationale for this decision, moreover, was full of unexamined assumptions and sentiments. “These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” Obama said. They “face the threat of deportation to a country that [they] know nothing about, with a language that [they] may not even speak.” They “for all intents and purposes, are Americans. They’ve been raised as Americans, understand themselves to be part of this country.” All those statements are loaded with begged questions that point to the bigger problem we have with immigration both legal and illegal––the question of national identity and national loyalty.
No doubt, many of these young immigrants match Obama’s description. I’d bet that those who have served in the military do. But many do not, particularly the university students usually showcased by their champions. From my years of experience as a teacher in a university about half Hispanic, hundreds of them illegal immigrants mostly from Mexico, I know that many see themselves as Mexican or Chicano first, and Americans second, if at all. They travel to Mexico and speak Spanish, and have imbibed an anti-Americanism that casts them as victims of American imperialism and racism who deserve reparations for those historical crimes.
These attitudes are institutionalized in the courses they take from ethnic studies departments and in the organizations they join. Many universities, for example, have chapters of a group called MEChA, the “National Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán,” the mythical land allegedly stolen by Americans in the Mexican War. This fantasy history claims that the whole Southwest was once Aztlán, the homeland of La Raza, the “bronze” race, who are “the Chicano inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land of Aztlán from whence came our forefathers,” as the “Plan of Aztlán” puts it. This homeland was lost to the “brutal ‘gringo’ invasion,” and the goal of the “Plan” is the “reconquest” of that lost homeland, and restitution for that historical crime. The racist drift of all this is apparent in the motto of MEChA: “For the Race everything, outside the Race, nothing.”
Obviously, MEChA scorns assimilation to American culture and identity, promoting instead a Mexican identity called “Chicanismo,” which “involves a personal decision to reject assimilation and work towards the preservation of our cultural heritage” and the recovery of a “bronze culture for a bronze people.” Thus MEChA “is committed to ending the cultural tyranny suffered at the hands of institutional and systematic discrimination that holds our Gente [people] captive.” If you need further evidence that this ideology is hostile to American culture and identity, consider a poem published at California State University Fresno in La Voz de Aztlán, a state-subsidized campus newspaper that functions as MEChA’s house organ: “America the land robbed by the white savage / the land of the biggest genocide / the home of intolerance / the place where dreams come to die / the place of greed and slavery,” and so on for another two dozen lines.
Clearly, students who accept such an ideology are hardly going to be “Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way,” as the president claimed. Rather, they will identify themselves as victims of America from which they feel alienated. They will not believe, like earlier immigrants, that living in America allows them to improve their lives by enjoying the freedom and economic opportunity unavailable to them in their ancestral country. Rather, they will think that they are owed reparations from the country that unjustly stole a region of their true homeland. As the Chicano activist slogan goes, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” This historical lie justifies ignoring the responsibilities immigrants to the United States traditionally have accepted, which is to assimilate to the country they live in by accepting its language, traditions, and political principles. With the mythic history of unjust displacement, however, the burden is now on the mainstream culture to adapt to and accommodate the culture of those it allegedly oppressed and robbed of their land. The dominant culture must expiate its historical crimes with various sorts of reparations and entitlements, particularly special consideration for illegal aliens like free tuition in public universities, drivers licenses, welfare and health care, or quasi-amnesties such as the Dream Act.
Such a legitimization of illegal aliens thus is merely part of what the “Plan of Aztlán” calls “restitution”: “Restitution for past economic slavery, political exploitation, ethnic and cultural psychological destruction and denial of civil and human rights.” A “reconquest” impossible by force will be achieved through demography and the abandonment of the old model of assimilation, in an attempt to make California more like the culture illegal aliens risk their lives to leave, and less like the America that has given them greater freedom and opportunity.
We should not simply assume, then, as the president and other supporters of amnesty do, that people here illegally consider themselves Americans and give America their loyalty just because they were brought here as children. No doubt many do, but how do we know? We need to figure out a way to vet _all_ immigrants to this country to ensure that we give the privilege of citizenship only to those who will not subordinate being an American to being something else. Given how thoroughly multicultural identity politics, predicated on American crime and oppression, permeates schools, popular culture, and government programs, merely living the bulk of one’s life here is no guarantee of American identity. Determining whether or not immigrants, including those brought here as children, truly understand and accept the core principles and values of our political order is the most serious challenge we face in dealing with 11 million illegal immigrants.
Obama’s quick-fix may win him some votes, but it does nothing to make sure residence in the country is reserved only for those immigrants who understand why America is exceptional, feel blessed to live here, and are proud to be Americans.
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