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Huanqiu, China

The Challenges to
America’s National Identity

By PengHui Zhang

Translated By Stefanie Zhou

22 February 2013

Edited by Natalie Clager

China - Huanqiu - Original Article (Chinese)

The reform of U.S. immigration policy has two core objectives: One is to continue to attract high-quality personnel; the other is to solve the problem of illegal immigrants. There are few conflicts on the first objective between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The difficulty lies in the legalization of illegal immigrants, which is also the crux of the problem the U.S. immigration reform bill repeatedly faces.

For the U.S., highly skilled immigrants are crucial to scientific and technological innovation and economic development. Historically, the United States has always accepted highly skilled immigrants unequivocally. The immigration laws promulgated successively all included the implementation of the priority system for highly skilled immigrants. After 9/11, the U.S. business community has been lobbying the government to lower the threshold for people with high-tech talent, and simplify the immigration procedures.

Dealing with illegal immigrants is tricky not only because it is a political matter concerning bipartisan votes, but also because it is related to the “national identity crisis” triggered by the large number of immigrants who swarmed into the United States. The United States is a country of immigrants, but national identity was not a problem for a very long period of time. During the nation’s early days, race, ethnicity, language and religion were not complicated. The U.S. accepted immigrants from Europe with high priority and restricted the entry of people of color to maintain national identity. In addition, the U.S. strongly promoted various assimilation policies by directing immigrants to abandon their original languages, customs and ways of life and accept the American way of life and values instead.

The adoption of the new immigration laws in 1965 and the rise of the civil rights movement during the same period, along with the prevalence of multiculturalism, had a huge impact in terms of national identity. Maintaining a cultural identity as immigrants was viewed as a manifestation of social vitality.

However, the collision between the concepts above and reality is continually growing. Surpassing 50 million in number, the Hispanics have become the most populous and fastest growing minority group in the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau predicted that by 2050, Hispanics will become the largest ethnic group in the country. According to the survey, about half of Hispanic immigrants has education below college level, experiences a language barrier, communicates in Spanish, watches Mexican television, remits proceeds back to their home country and lives a life of semi-isolation. Some U.S. conservatives worry that the surge in the number of Latin American immigrants and the rejection of assimilation may cause the U.S. to face the risk of Latin soccer home game against Mexico in 1998.

A survey from Feb. 2013 from Pew Research Center showed that only 36 percent of Mexican immigrants who are eligible to become U.S. citizens applied for citizenship. Among them, only 7 percent applied out of “national identity.” Most applied for “legal rights,” “benefits and opportunities” and “family reasons.” Another 52 percent of the people did not apply on the grounds of "language barrier", "did not try" or "not interested." These data reflected the indifference of the immigrants to U.S. national identity.

The large number of Hispanic immigrants constitutes a political force that cannot be ignored. The Democratic Party strongly recommends the regularization of illegal immigrants, mainly in order to consolidate the Hispanic electorate vote, along with some consideration for illegal immigrants to integrate into American society. However, Republicans think that the legalization of illegal immigrants is as good as "amnesty" and will encourage more illegal immigration. Conservatives in the Republican Party are more concerned that this will further exacerbate the identity crisis of American society. Congress faces the situation divided between Democrats and Republicans. The immigration policy reform path is doomed to be a long drawn fight.

In “Who are we?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity,” Huntington is worried that the South, where Latin American immigrants are concentrated, will become the "Latin Quarter," leading to the split of the United States. Such concerns in American society are relatively representative. American society is still looking for a plan to the answer the question of whether the United States can avoid an identity crisis while maintaining the diverse qualities of a "nation of immigrants."



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