Fallows: DACA is Not CACA

From James Fallow’s piece on DACA in The Atlantic:

I’ve followed the politics and reality of immigration for a long time. In the mid-1980s, I traveled around the country for several months on a big reporting project for The Atlantic about that era’s new migrants. I went and learned about the Haitians and Cubans of South Florida, the Vietnamese of Arkansas and the Gulf Coast, the Central Americans of Houston, the Hmong of Fresno, the Mexicans of the greater Southwest, the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans of greater New York, the Lebanese of Detroit—and the native-born members of the communities they were changing.

What I found and argued then was that the process of short-term disruption and longer-term adaptation through which the U.S. opened itself to immigration still prevailed.

That is, immigration has always been disruptive, from the time of the Germans and Irish in the mid-1800s to the groups I was seeing a century-plus later, or their counterparts today. And periodically this disruption has led to political and legal responses that looked bad (and racially driven) in retrospect, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of the 1880s to the nativist restrictions that essentially shut down most immigration for almost a generation after World War I.

Before that war, the U.S. was open to a surge of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. Greeks, Italians, and Poles; Russians and Serbs; Swedes and Danes; Jews, Turks, and Arabs; all these plus others arrived, in addition to the ongoing flow of English, Irish, and Germans. All of my wife’s forebears in America came as children from Bohemia in this turn-of-the-century wave; so did one of my grandmothers, from Germany. “Race-decline” theories gained enormous intellectual and political traction in response, through popular books like The Passing of the Great Race and articles in this very magazine during its nativist phase a century ago. The race-war arguments were an important part of the “national origins” immigration system that prevailed from the 1920s through the early 1960s, with a strong preference for immigrants from Western Europe and tight limits on those from anywhere else.

But—I argued 30 years ago in The Atlantic, and have come to believe more strongly over the years—the United States differed from most other societies in its greater absorptive ability, and the resulting imperfectly open society enjoyed powerful economic, cultural, creative, diplomatic, actuarial, and simple human benefits from becoming a nation-of-nations.

So that’s my starting point. E pluribus unum is a real thing, and it is the fundamental American advantage.

If this piece has done one useful thing, it has motivated me to re-familiarize myself with the figure of Madison Grant, whose The Passing of the Great Race was way ahead of its time, and is still relevant today, despite all of Cathedral Culture dismissing it as ‘racist pseudoscience’.

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