“We have room for but one flag, the American flag … We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language …” ~Teddy Roosevelt, January 3, 1919
Nothing binds us together as Americans more than the English language. For most Americans outside of the Acela corridor, the expectation that immigrants learn English cuts across partisan lines as a common-sense imperative to sustain our civilization. Yet left-wing reporters think there is something hateful and revolutionary about the principle established in the RAISE Act that immigrants who speak English should be awarded priority status in a merit-based system. After all, as CNN’s advocacy director, Jim Acosta, would tell you, the Statue of Liberty, which of course is the law of the land on immigration, doesn’t list English as a criterion for admission.
Our true history of immigration and Americanization
There was a time when the initiative to make English the official language of the country was a moot point. Until recent decades, the culture, government, and education system never catered to the balkanization of America or accommodated different languages, and thus, the de facto language was always the American mother tongue. Sure, those who immigrated as adults didn’t always know English immediately, but their children immediately learned the language as proficiently as children from native-born families. There were no other options. The school system was pure red, white, and blue.
As former Democrat Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once wrote, contrary to the nostalgic revisionism of some of his colleagues regarding the poem on the Statue of Liberty, the immigrants of the Great Wave “were not the wretched refuse of anybody’s shores.” Moynihan described them in stark contrast to many from today’s massive wave, as “extraordinary, enterprising, and self-sufficient folk, who knew exactly what they were doing, and doing it quite on their own, thank you very much.”
At the time when Teddy Roosevelt made his comments about immigrants learning English, our nation stood at the end of the largest wave of immigration until that point. He wanted to make sure those timeless values continued and that Americanism persisted. This was a bipartisan and universal view expressed by all major political leaders at the time. In fact, as I note in “Stolen Sovereignty,” when Congress decided to shut off immigration on February 22, 1921 (temporarily, until the long-term bill was developed in 1924), the bill passed the Senate 78-1 and passed the House without a recorded vote!
It was obvious at the time that a cool-off was in order, and history, along with the success of assimilating the Great Wave immigrants, proved them right.
Fast-forward to a century later, and the second great wave has dwarfed the first one in numbers, diversity, lack of assimilation, balkanization, and duration. Yet it continues unabated. And now, unlike in Roosevelt’s day, when a group of senators, backed by the president, are suggesting we cut our record immigration in half and strengthen the English language, it is viewed as against our history and traditions!
The proliferation of bilingualism
In reality, now more than ever, we must ensure that English becomes the official language of America once and for all. Our school system is spending money like there’s no tomorrow catering to bilingual education. These “ELL” (Emerging Language Learner) programs, which receive grants from the federal government, have identified 4.9 million children enrolled as limited English proficient (LEP), according to the Migration Policy Institute. That is nearly 10 percent of the entire K-12 enrollment in the country, and those are only the ones officially identified as part of an ELL program. Eleven states have ELL enrollments comprising more than 10 percent of total K-12 student population, and in California that number is 24.5 percent! One in every four children in the entire massive state of California is not proficient in English! And this is the state average. Some urban areas, such as the Anaheim City school district, have a 60 percent ELL enrollment rate.
Most disturbing is that 77 percent of the LEP children are native-born children of immigrants. Which demonstrates that assimilation into the language and culture is nothing like it used to be, most likely because our culture and government cater to and in encourage balkanization. Consider the following:
There is immigration, and then there is balkanization. That is what distinguishes this wave of immigration, which is slated to explode even further under the current trajectory, from past waves. And for immigrants from which we’ve had mass migration, there is almost no momentum to assimilate, because they are able to live their own languages and cultures on our shores. Pew has found that Mexican immigrants decide to naturalize at a much lower rate than other immigrants, in part because they don’t speak English as well as immigrants from other countries.
Simply put, when everything can be in Spanish, there is no pressure to learn English. Every year we hand out roughly 150,000 green cards to Mexican nationals, twice the number of the second highest group. And this has been going on for decades! We have never done this in our history. As I observed in “Stolen Sovereignty,” more people have come from Mexico than from any other country in our modern history. Over the past forty-four years, 6.65 million people have emigrated from Mexico legally (not including the 6 million or so illegal immigrants) compared to 4.5 million who emigrated from Italy—the previous record-breaking country of origin—from 1880 to 1929.
Within this reality, it is easy to see why prioritizing English proficiency in the merit-based system for immigration should be one of our foremost objectives now more than ever.
Moreover, it’s time to go a step further and codify English as the official language for government business, programs, and grants. Congress should also re-introduce the 1996 bill that passed the House, which would have repealed the requirement to offer bilingual ballots. It should also remove any mandates on the states that either directly force them to cater to the balkanization agenda or open them up to private litigation. Some of this can be done administratively.
It’s funny how, when leftists want us to agree to an amnesty proposal, they speak incessantly about a requirement to learn English and assimilate. Yet whenever we propose a true immigration reform measure with those principles in mind — without addressing their amnesty obsessions — they begin with the name-calling. It’s time to call their bluff.
Justice Louis Brandeis, a son of immigrant parents, explained that the most important manifestation of Americanization is when the immigrant “substitutes for his mother tongue, the English language as the common medium of speech.” Those who truly support the values of immigration should champion the movement to restore the English language to its proper role in our society.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.