Reihan Salam, born in Brooklyn of a Bangladeshi mother, says in the Wall Street Journal that “…we need to recognize that the immigration debate isn’t really about immigrants. In truth, it’s about the children of immigrants.
Think about it. If the United States were to open its borders to willing workers from around the world who could guarantee that they’d never raise children on American soil, their long-term political and cultural impact on American society would fade away after a single generation. Without children, immigrant-headed households wouldn’t be in a position to transform our public schools, and their ability, or inability, to provide for their youngest and most vulnerable members wouldn’t have a lasting impact on America’s productive potential. Under these circumstances, it’s a safe bet that the debate around immigrants and immigration would mostly fade away.
The key to averting a civil war over immigration is for the U.S. to do everything in its power to make sure that the children of natives and the children of immigrants alike are incorporated into a common national identity and, just as importantly, that they’re in a position to lead healthy and productive lives as adults. We need, in short, to make America a middle-class melting pot.
The melting pot ideal fell from favor decades ago, mostly because the melting pot of old was, if we’re being honest, a whites-only affair. That is why we need a more expansive melting pot ideal, one that includes the descendants of slaves and of newcomers from around the world. As the author Michael Lind, who has championed this ideal for decades, has argued, the melting pot stands for “the voluntary blending of previously distinct groups into a new community”—a “great American mix” that draws on dozens of ethnicities and religious traditions.”