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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
30 July 2001

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 2, No. 31

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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U.S. Becomes a World Community, Diverges from Europe Again

Just as it did 225 years ago, so today the United States is taking a different direction than Europe, with immigration remaking the country into a democratic world community.

by Jerome F. Winzig

Two hundred and twenty five years ago the American colonies of Great Britain took the then-radical step of declaring their independence. They founded a democracy centered on several "self-evident truths," including these: "that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Significantly, they also asserted that the very purpose of government was to secure these rights.

Ever since that July day in 1776, the United States of America has followed a different course than Europe. It has not always been easy. Building a people united by an ideal rather than ethnicity or language has difficult. We went through a terrible civil war and a hard-fought civil rights movement a hundred years later as the U.S. moved towards becoming a nation united not by race or ethnicity but by a common democratic vision.

Even so, for much of U.S. history most of the country's people have looked like Europeans. Today, however, the face of the U.S. is changing in fundamental ways. Some have predicted that the 21st century will be an Asian century, displacing an American 20th century. But these predictions fail to factor in the new waves of immigration that are making the United States look increasingly Hispanic and Asian -- and increasingly reflective of the entire planet.

It must be conceded that immigration is changing the face of Europe as well, but there are three significant differences. The first difference is that Europe and the United States have very different starting points. One-quarter of the U.S. population is already non-European; this country is a much different place than Europe.

The second difference is the rapidity of change in the United States. The net flow of immigrants into the U.S. is 3.5 migrants per 1,000 people per year. While that's below the U.S. historical average, it is 84 percent greater than the European rate of 1.9 migrants per 1,000 people. As a result, in the state of California no one racial or ethnic group makes up a majority anymore. In just twenty more years, a majority of Americans nationwide will be of non-European ancestry.

The third -- and perhaps most significant -- difference is that immigration is perceived differently in the United States and in Europe. While some Americans don't like our immigration levels, the opposition is nothing like that of Europe's, where there are major political figures whose key issue is curbing immigration. There are no equivalent significant anti-immigration political figures in the United States. In fact, many Americans believe that immigration actually invigorates the American democracy.

In Europe, conservative politicians like Friedrich Merz and Angela Merkel in Germany generally lead the opposition to immigration. In the United States, however, President Bush, a conservative Republican, is considering an amnesty for three million illegal immigrants from Mexico.

These differences point to a much different future for the U.S. than for Europe. The secretary of state and national security advisor for the United States are African-Americans rather than European-Americans, a fact that seems to have even greater import for the rest of the world than for the United States. The ethnicity of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice may be precedent-setting at home, but it is also part and parcel of a diverse America that has roots going back to the founding of the nation. For the rest of the world, however, it's a big deal, as evidenced by Secretary Powell's reception during a recent trip to Africa.

In some parts of the United States, this new future has already arrived. Last month, a Time magazine cover story focused on "Amexica," Time's name for the border between the United States and Mexico where 24 million people live and where every day 800,000 people crisscross the border. While Amexica faces serious challenges, it is also a place of incredible dynamism and change.

Robert L. Bartley, the editor of the Wall Street Journal, says, "The ability to assimilate is the heart of the American genius, precisely the trait that sets the United States off from other nations. Immigration makes the U.S. what it is."

It is making the United States a world community.

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