In the current issue of his respected monthly magazine on religion and society, First Things, Father Richard John Neuhaus praises the same thoughtful Christopher Jencks New York Review Of Books essays on immigration that I wrote about in January.
For people who aren't familiar with the various categories of conservative, Neuhaus is what has been called a "theocon" - which is to say that he believes in his religion, and is opposed to efforts by liberals to ban it from the public square, and even from private enterprise. Unlike other religious leaders Neuhaus doesn't believe that opposition to immigration is the same thing as the sin against the Holy Ghost. He said so in his review of Alien Nation, even though he comes down, in a qualified way, on the pro immigration side. (He is more worried about American publicans and sinners.)
But after all, Neuhaus' great issue is the place of religion in the American public square. (Click here for his book in the subject.)
America has a tradition of religious liberty. Newcomers to the United States may not. They may come from Mexico, where within living memory priests were hunted down and shot, but where now, the tide having turned a bit, it's more popular to persecute Protestants. Others may come from India, where recently Christian missionaries were burned alive by Hindu enthusiasts. Diversity, as we all know, is our strength. But importing this sort of diversity into America could make the "public square" distinctly uncomfortable, and perhaps lethal, for anyone who has unapproved beliefs.
Fr. Neuhaus' article is more evidence that disquiet about immigration is widespread, albeit muted, among the American elite – and that the tergiversation of the Goldberg Review has not gone unnoticed.
FIRST THINGS MAGAZINE
The Public Square
Richard John Neuhaus
A few years ago, immigration restriction was a hot topic in some conservative circles. It was pushed hard by National Review when John O'Sullivan was editor and Peter Brimelow, author of Alien Nation, was the point man on the subject. Under the editorship of Rich Lowry, National Review has pretty much fallen silent on immigration reform, without, however, taking the position of the Wall Street Journal that we should abolish the borders and let everybody in. What National Review has dropped, the New York Review of Books may be picking up. Christopher Jencks has a long, two-part essay there ("Who Should Get In"), suggesting it may be time to reconsider a policy that brings in a million legal immigrants per year, and has resulted in ten million illegal immigrants living in the country. The Jencks article is remarkable in that it discusses the advocates of immigration reform without once using words such as "racist", "nativist" and "Know-Nothing." This is, I think, a welcome development. I don't know if it is a sign that the issue of immigration reform is moving from right to left. The article may be no more than a one-time thing with the New York Review. But, especially after September 11, it is inevitable that more Americans will be worrying about who "all these people" are, and whether they really intend to be part of "us." As we know from past experience, such questions are strewn with devilish landmines. It ought to possible to have a civil discussion of the proposal that it is time for a "moratorium" or "pause" in immigration—or just the effective enforcement of existing law—in order to encourage the more effective assimilation of immigrants who are here. It is, all in all, a good thing that the immigration question is being taken up by people who are not easily dismissed (because they sometimes sound like) racists, nativists, etc., etc.
March 06, 2002