CAPS — The feel-good mythology of immigration tells us that immigration – no matter what the level – will always work out fine in the end. Should anyone suggest otherwise, likely that person will be called out as a nativist and a bigot – that, or other pejoratives. Mythologists usually will concede that there are problems of adjustment and achievement associated with the first generation of immigrants. They then will state that the immigrants’ children and grandchildren will surpass them in most measures of success as they inexorably flow into the American mainstream.
These myth-makers claim that the previous great wave of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries proves their point. They say that the dire predictions of restrictionists didn’t come to pass, and that we should ignore similar expressions of concern today. Their narrative – one highly romanticized – ignores many difficulties that did arise. Yes, it is true that the worst of those predictions did not materialize. But the reason was not because the restrictionists were wrong. It was because they were right.
America avoided a meltdown of the Melting Pot precisely because Congress in the early 1920s heeded concerns about immigration and sharply reduced it. The lower numbers enhanced the power of assimilation and prompted immigrants and their descendants to move out from their enclaves and enter the mainstream. The reduction further aided their progress by raising wage levels, which assisted their upward economic mobility.