Mass Low-Skilled Immigration Plus Lack of Assimilation: A Dangerous Combination
Although Reihan Salam’s book, Melting Pot or Civil War? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders, was published in 2018, the author’s analysis of immigration policy remains relevant. FAIR supporters will likely agree with many of Salam’s arguments, and will undoubtedly disagree with others (for instance, Salam wants mass amnesty, albeit in exchange for E-Verify and more rigorous interior enforcement). Either way, the book is an insightful and outside-the-box critique of our immigration system and a sobering warning about America’s future if the pro-mass-migration, open-borders trends and policies of the past several decades are not recognized and addressed in a realistic fashion.
A son of Bangladeshi immigrants, Salam was born in theUnited States and grew up in multi-ethnic New York City. He thus views theissue of immigration from two different perspectives, and he is undoubtedlyworried about some of the problematic aspects he sees.
Thus, the title of the book is no mere marketinggimmick, but actually conveys the essence of the author’s argument and thealternative that America faces. The United States will either have to betterand more fully integrate its large and growing foreign-born population in thespirit of the “melting pot,” Salam argues, or the resulting socio-economicinequalities and ethnic tensions will further radicalize and tear the countryapart, possibly even leading to revolution or civil war.
According to Salam, sustained high levels ofimmigration – and in particular low-skilled and/or family-based immigration –exacerbate both socio-economic inequality and ethno-cultural friction. Thereason, he argues, is that low-skilled immigrants may admittedly be better offin the U.S. than they would be in their homelands, but they nevertheless tendto languish in relative poverty at the very bottom of the Americansocio-economic pyramid without much hope for significant upward mobility. Moreover,we should “worry about the children they raise on American soil, and what willhappen to our society if impoverished immigrants give rise to an impoverishedsecond generation that has no memory of life in the old country and who won’ttolerate being relegated to second-class status.”
Such a second generation – resentful, radicalized, andcynical about the “American Dream” – would certainly be grist for the mill of revolutionarydemagogues at the intersection of divisive identity politics and equallydivisive class warfare. And, as Salam admits, mass low-skilled immigration(both legal and illegal) means that the stratum of immigrant children who feelthe American system is rigged against them will only continue to grow.
In addition to increasing the number of low-incomehouseholds, and the resulting tensions and inequalities, low-skilled migrationhas also “kept large swaths of our economy stuck in a low-wage,low-productivity rut.” Indeed, the widespread availability of cheap low-skilledlabor, Salam emphasizes, discourages the technological modernization of theeconomy. He also mentions the recent example of Sweden, whose “business modelshave been designed to make use of high-skilled, high-wage workers augmented byloads of laborsaving technology.” The sudden arrival of large numbers oflow-skilled migrants and refugees from the Middle East thus posed a particularchallenge. As a result, “some Swedish firms are ‘de-engineering’ their businessmodels to become more labor-intensive.”
That is why the author has “come to believe that theUnited States badly needs a more thoughtful and balanced approach toimmigration, including a greater emphasis on skills and a lesser one onextended family ties.” Salam argues that “a more selective, skills-basedimmigration system would yield a more egalitarian economy, in which machines dothe dirty work and workers enjoy middle-class stability. And a more egalitarianeconomy would help heal our country’s ethnic divides.”
To Salam’s credit, he recognizes that high levels ofunending mass immigration discourage assimilation. At the same time the authorclaims that America is not doing enough for its immigrants and their children, aproblem that itself can be chalked up to our broken immigration policies. Weare asking vital institutions, like our schools, to do the impossible – teachmillions of non-English-speaking kids the common language of our country,provide for their nutritional and other needs – and not surprisingly, many arefailing. But regardless of whether we agree with all of Salam’s arguments andtheories, Melting Pot or Civil War? is a book that should be read bypeople on both sides of the immigration debate.