May 21 • 03:12 AM

Is melting pot bubbling over?

March 12, 2008
Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, in response to terrorist attacks on Bali, has angered Australian Muslims by saying those who wanted to live under Islamic Sharia law ought to leave the country. Howard also noted that he supported spy agencies monitoring the nation's mosques.

"Immigrants, not Australians, must adapt. Take it or leave it. I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individual on their cultures," he says.

"This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom. We speak mainly English, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian or any other language. Therefore if you wish to become part of our society, learn the language!"

"We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why," he continues. "All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us. "This is our country, our land, and our lifestyle and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about our flag, our pledge, our…beliefs, or our way of life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom. The right to leave! If you aren't happy here then leave. We didn't force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country you accepted."

Now I doubt if you can accuse Prime Minister Howard of political correctness in this ethnocentric outburst, which reminds me of the 'love it or leave it' debate of the late 60s. Given the current national discussion over immigration and whether or not English should be our official language there are no doubt many who would agree with him.

I am not sure I would include myself among this number since I pretty much subscribe to the idea of America as a melting pot where those who came to this country became part of the mainstream, while at the same time appreciating their ethnic heritage and blending its traditions with our own.

9/11 of course changed all that. Border security became a major issue complicated by the fact there are more than 13 million illegal immigrants already in the country. It has become clear that a comprehensive immigration policy is necessary. Such a policy must go beyond issues as to whether or not they are entitled to a driver's license and recognize the reality that so long as employers continue to hire illegal immigrants and not pay Americans a living wage some form of a guest worker program must be worked out.

The hard truth is that many of the jobs now performed by illegal immigrants are ones which many Americans are unwilling to do and employers can pay them far lower wages.

Building a wall is itself not a solution nor is it possible to deport 13 million people without looking to the rest of the world that we are supporting some kind of ethnic cleansing policy. Rather we must somehow develop a system of fairness within our immigration policy which will provide a clear path to legal status over a period of time and allow illegal immigrants to earn their citizenship if they avoid a criminal record, learn English, and pay a fine. It would also help if we reduced immigrant application fees and sped up the approval process for citizenship.

Whatever changes in immigration policy that we make we should keep in mind that after all we are a nation of immigrants. While a nation should have the right to control its immigration we have not always been fair about it in the past. Through the quota system we have attempted programs of social engineering that have often resulted in discrimination against almost every immigrant group that has come to America. Only through a gradual policy of cultural assimilation have we been able to overcome the discrimination which resulted when one group replaced another and over a period of time the immigrants of one generation blended into the population.

Whatever solution the next administration works out however, it should be guided by fairness and humanity, recognizing the greatness of a nation is not in its size but in the character of her people.

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