One of the complaints about illegal immigrants — and there are many — is that they’re different. They bring their own language and culture into the United States, the narrative goes, and don’t make enough of an attempt to adapt themselves to the language and culture that are already here. My colleague Ben Boychuk made the case awhile back:
Should Americans worry that immigrants are changing the country’s demographic makeup? As long as newcomers embrace the principles and institutions of America, there is nothing to fret about. And there’s the rub. Assimilation doesn’t occur by magic. … Traditionally, patriotic assimilation happened through a fairly rigorous and unapologetic process of civic indoctrination.Alexander Hamilton, himself an immigrant from the West Indies, insisted that “the safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits; on the exemption of citizens from foreign bias and prejudice; and on the love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education and family.”
What goes unmentioned by anti-immigration forces is that they’re also heartily against institutions that would help the children of immigrants assimilate and bring them fully into the community of citizens. Out in Kansas, an old colleague of mine writes about the latest effort:
Republican Secretary of State candidate Kris Kobach today announced that he has filed a lawsuit in Nebraska challenging that state’s law that allows the children of some illegal immigrants the lower in-state tuition rates.
“It is a great injustice when U.S. citizens who have always obeyed the law are charged more in tuition than aliens whose very presence in the United States is a violation of federal law,” said Kobach, an attorney and law school professor.
Kobach challenged a similar law in Kansas but that effort was unsuccessful.
A friend of mine notes: “This line says it all: Kobach challenged a similar law in Kansas but that effort was unsuccessful.” That’s putting it mildly. His lawsuit here has been rejected at every step of the appeal process; his similar lawsuits against California and others have also failed. His winning record is worse than the Chiefs’ so I’m not too worried.”
Still, it’s worth noting that the tuition breaks don’t go to every illegal immigrant who crosses the border. Under Kansas law, “the student must have lived in Kansas at least three years, graduated from a Kansas high school, and seek or promise to seek legal status.”
In other words, the law applies almost entirely to children who were brought here by their parents and who, to a very large degree, understand themselves to be Americans — they have assimilated to a large degree — even if the documentation doesn’t add up. In a country where a college education is all-but-required as a step towards meaningful success, I’d still argue that Kobach’s efforts really are an attempt to obstruct the assimilation process.
Is it perfect, from a strong borders standpoint, that the students and their parents are here? Maybe not — although the fact that they are here and so fully employed suggests we should maybe lower some of the barriers to immigration that exist. And in any case, fair play dictates that the sins of the father shouldn’t be visited upon the son. Lawsuits like Kobach’s act to obstruct the assimilation process by denying the children of immigrants a fair chance at the education they need to become fully American — thus turning conservatives’ complaints into self-fulfilling prophecies. For immigration opponents, it’s a means of having the cake and eating it too.