July 18, 2018

Dennis Prager’s Missed Immigration Opportunity

Dennis Prager makes some good videos promoting conservative economic principles. But his critique of immigration is tired and shopworn. It’s so played, in fact, that it’s older than America itself.

In a column yesterday in National Review, he wrote:

The vast majority of past immigrants changed their values, not America’s, when they came to this country. They came here to become American, not only in terms of language, citizenship,
and national identity, but also in terms of values. But while some immigrants still do, the majority does not…Tens of millions of people have been coming to America with non-American

Each wave of immigrants has had its “these immigrants are different” detractors. Even Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1750s:

Few of their children in the country learn English… The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages … Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.

To whom was Franklin referring? Those pesky German immigrants. As recently as 1910, one-quarter of rural Wisconsin residents spoke exclusively German.

Catholics, Jews, Southern, Central, and Eastern Europeans have all faced the same discrimination as a unique threat to American culture. And they immigrated to the U.S. at much higher rates than today’s immigrants while only making the country stronger.

Prager calls the reality that America is a nation of immigrants “meaningless.”

“What else could America be?” he asks.

Well, it could be like Japan or Italy or Norway, whose ethnic populations date back millennia. In these countries, someone could plausibly say they are a citizen by blood. It would be crazy for an American, even one who traces his or her ancestors back to the Mayflower, to make the same claim. Because unlike the “old world,” we’re all only a few generations removed from immigrants. (Except, of course, Native Americans.) And we’re stronger because of it. Today’s immigrants are a proud continuation of this immigrant tradition.

Rather than engaging in the collectivist mindset of grouping immigrants as a threat to American values, Prager and conservatives should recognize the opportunity to ally themselves with immigrants, who actually share many conservative values. While immigrants may tend to prefer bigger government than conservatives, they also tend to be more 1) pro-family, 2) entrepreneurial, 3) religious, 4) anti-abortion, and 5) harder working than existing Americans.

In fact, immigrants would be a receptive audience to Prager’s videos. If he’s not willing to write them off as a lost cause.