April 19, 2004


Celebrating Immigration's New Face: Official events and pop culture are beginning to pay tribute to the contributions of the diverse wave of recent newcomers to the city. (Josh Getlin, April 17, 2004, LA Times)

[U]nlike the Ellis Island experience, which has been recounted in books, movies, plays and novels, the modern tale of people journeying to New York and the rest of the country is only now beginning to echo in American pop culture.

"The new version is still in flux, it's still ongoing — and that's what makes it hard for a lot of people to grasp," said Nancy Foner, author of "From Ellis Island to JFK: New York's Two Great Waves of Immigration."

"New York is changing every day as a result of this process, and everywhere you look — on the subways, in neighborhoods, in parks, in taxis, on the streets — you see the signs of something profound. But the new world is just beginning to be noticed."

One reason is that Ellis Island continues to cast a long shadow. City officials have pointed out that Immigrant History Week observances are timed to remember April 17, 1907, when Ellis Island bureaucrats processed 11,747 immigrants — the largest recorded number for one day in U.S. immigration annals. The processing facility, which was open from 1892 to 1954, reopened as a museum in 1990.

Yet the most recent wave of immigration to the city, which began in 1965, when the federal government loosened restrictions, has generated its own stunning statistics.

Nearly 1 million immigrants have settled in New York since 1990, and today 36% of city residents (or 2.9 million) are foreign-born, a figure rivaling the previous high of 41% reached in 1910, according to U.S. census statistics. The borough of Queens, where once-deteriorating neighborhoods have been revitalized by a flood of newcomers, is now thought to be the nation's most ethnically diverse county.

The vast majority of arrivals are legal immigrants; an estimated 500,000 are considered undocumented. But their presence here is not nearly as controversial as it is in Southern California or other national regions, experts say, because the city has a long history of affirming the human and economic value of immigration.

Each generation thinks its immigrants are uniquely unassimilable and that the drawbridge should be raised.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2004 7:13 AM

First, there are some very real differences between this generation's immigration and the previous waves. Differences which even your smug liberalism can't elide over: the impact of global communications, the extreme religious and cultural differences and the fact that a majority of our new "citizens" come from a neighboring country with revanchist designs.

Second, the much vaunted assimilation occurred only because immigration had been choked off before. We forced the other generations to assimilate because they couldn't rely on their ethnic ghettoes being replenished with new souls.

Posted by: Derek Copold at April 19, 2004 12:35 PM


Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 12:46 PM

Four problems with OJ's point of view:

1) Previous waves of immigrants came into a country with a pro-assimilationist ethic. Currently, though, the cult of multiculturalism reigns, which inhibits assimilation.

2) Previous waves happened before the existence of government welfare programs, which are now burdened by immigrants.

3) Illegal immigration means we have no control over exactly who gets to immigrate. We certainly don't need to import violent criminals, people with contagious diseases, etc., but we are certainly doing so now.

4) Immigration in general is a good thing, but it's possible to have too much of a good thing. OJ, based on what I've read of your other beliefs, I can't believe you don't know this.

And don't pull the rhetorical trick on my comment you pulled on Derek's. The fact that "wolf!" has been cried falsely before is no guarantee that it's always false.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 19, 2004 3:56 PM

Yes, and then the wolves get here and they turn into sheep, but hasten to keep the next generation of "wolves" out.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 4:07 PM

No, OJ, they want to stop importing more wolves so that the ones here can change their skin. It's impossible to do that with the current flood of immigration. You simply refuse to look at the plain fact that all of the much-vaunted assimilation occured almost exclusively when immigration was negligible. But then again, why should we expect a liberal like you let facts get in his way?

Posted by: Derek Copold at April 19, 2004 4:25 PM

Negligible? What does the article say? 15,000 in one day?

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 4:31 PM

The fact is that the last (Ellis Island) surge of immigration was before widespread mass/electronic communications. When you pulled up stakes for America, there was little chance of ever going back; the Atlantic and the delay/bandwidth of written letters delivered by ship cut you off from the Old Country pretty much permanently.

Now you can move to America and still stay in contact with the Old Country as if you'd never left. Plus there are probably ethnic activists for your group doing a much better job of keeping your language and customs alive in the New Country. (Though ethnic-identity movements and ethnic neighborhoods seem to have been a part of every previous wave, more solid contact with the Old Country this time seems to have made them stronger than before.)

Now here in California the massive wave of immigration (with the Old Country -- Mexico -- only a walk away) has gotten to the point that instead of America assimilating them, we're worrying about Mexico assimilating us. And Mexico's semi-official talk of Reconquista as payback for 1848 sure doesn't help matters.

It's a matter of volume, here in the Front Line State of California -- can we assimilate them, or are there so many this time that they'll assimilate us?

Posted by: Ken at April 19, 2004 6:44 PM

From a Red State perspective one would rather see CA go Mexican than stay Boxer/Gray Davis territory.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 7:18 PM
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