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by John Wilson

Who Will We Be?

One arresting feature of the immigration debate that fueled a thousand op-eds and a small library of books over the last decade—not to mention various congressional panels, think-tank reports, and Sunday supplements—was its apparent lack of connection with any significant real-world consequences. No matter what anyone said, pro or con, immigration continued at a record pace, so that by the end of the 1990s more immigrants had been admitted to the United States than during any previous decade in the nation's history.

And no matter how many were coming in, one could count on a screed every few months by immigration advocates like George Anderson in the Jesuit magazine America, such as the cover story of July17–24, 1999, titled "Keeping the Immigrant Out." The cover illustration showed the Statue of Liberty surrounded by a barrier, denying entry to a little family in a rowboat. That year, as it happened, only 646,568 legal immigrants were admitted, plus refugees, asylees, and illegal immigrants, for a total approaching if not exceeding one million.

Given these circumstances, it's easy to dismiss the entire debate as political theater. Still, beneath all the posturing, important matters are at stake. "Will today's immigrant population become the first in American history that fails to assimilate?" The question has been moved to the front burner again by Samuel (The Clash of Civilizations) Huntington and his new book, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity (Simon & Schuster), already the subject of fierce controversy. (Keep an eye out for Timothy Shah's review forthcoming in B&C.) But this is only the latest entry in an ongoing conversation. John Miller, for example, a reporter for National Review, set out to answer the same question in his 1998 book, The Unmaking of Americans: How Multiculturalism Has Undermined America's Assimilation Ethic (Free Press).

Miller's own argument is pro-immigration and pro-assimilation. He strongly rejects the nativism of restrictionists ...

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