This post is adapted from a passage in Chapter 4 of my book A Conservative’s Manifesto.
What is the “many” in the title, the pluribus? When the phrase was first proposed for the Seal of the United States in 1776, it referred to the 13 States being joined into one nation. It has come to mean, in addition, the several peoples, religions, languages, heritages, and so on who come to the United States to join our great experiment in individual freedom and individual responsibility.
What is the one, the unum? That’s the point of this post.
We Americans take in and incorporate (note that verb) immigrants, and gladly so, for they bring fresh ideas as well as fresh approaches to old problems and a renewal of dedication to nation. However, we should not become our immigrants—they need to become Americans, or alternatively to recognize their resident alien status. Those who come to the United States do so for the opportunities here, and they’re welcome to share in these opportunities—immigrant and legal alien alike. Immigrants come to America specifically for the economic opportunities, the political freedoms and opportunities, the sociological opportunities—in a word, for the American culture, which they know a priori to be different from their own—and which they understand to be the foundation of our American exceptionalism.
Immigrants need to adapt to, and assimilate into, our culture. Some will argue that this implies an imposition of a particular majority culture on minorities, but it is not an imposition. It is a recognition and an acceptance that to benefit from what America has to offer, to benefit from American opportunities, and to preserve these for Americans already present and for future Americans, native born and immigrant, it is necessary to preserve and to adapt to that which is America. Immigrants holding themselves apart denies to them the very reason they came—our opportunities and escape from the restraints of their old countries.
What immigrants must do is accept the current political structures, which they knew from the start, and take part in their new community. These new citizens, like the “original” citizens, must speak a common national language and share the commitment to maintaining and defending the nation. And so, having committed to the nation—to America—they will have their impact by engaging as citizens in our common discourse. However, this is not a demand for sublimation. On the contrary, once immigrants have become citizens, rather than having chosen to remain resident aliens, they can, they should, actively participate in that common discourse and make their influence concerning the nation’s goals and future through free discussion.
Parenthetically, the need to preserve these American attributes, these fundaments of American exceptionalism, emphasizes, also, the importance of providing civics courses that teach the American social contract and American citizenship in our schools, so as to reach all American citizens.