american society, OPW, politics, USA

OPW: Fareed Zakaria on July 4th and Citizenship

Today’s Other People’s Words is a thought about the past week from Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International. Here’s what he had to say about the Fourth of July and becoming an American citizen on his PBS show, Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria.

For most Americans, Independence Day makes them think of fireworks, Old Glory, and traffic. For me, this week reminds me of the day, several years ago, when I became an American citizen. I was sworn in a few weeks before July 4, 2001 at a ceremony that would have sent chills down Pat Buchanan’s spine. Seated in a noisy Brooklyn auditorium, more than 2000 new citizens–almost all black and brown faces with the odd British banker looking around nervously–listened to introductory speeches in English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi. A young woman of Indian origin gave us all an earnest lecture imploring us to do our civic duty and always vote.

After the ceremony, a short sweet speech on patriotism, the oath of allegiance, and it was all over. We emptied unto the street where a small welcoming fair had been setup. You could eat pizza, sign up to join the New York Police Department, and get your picture taken with a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush. In some cities, the Daughters of the American Revolution host tea parties for new immigrants, but not in Flatbush, Brooklynn.

The atmosphere in the country was then open, confident, and welcoming of the world. Today, too many of us have become fearful, insecure and suspicious of the outside world. It’s strange, it was only six years ago, but it feels like a different age.

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politics, USA

Misguided Reform: The Problem of the Guest Worker

Though I wrote this about a year ago, as a response to the large immigration reform/guest worker program which was then tied to President Bush, I think it relevance is renewed by the new bill and the new push [dead link removed, 12/28/07] to get it passed. Those parts not relevant to the current legislation discussion have been discarded.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Long taken as the very motto of American immigrations policy, the last lines of Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” inscribed beneath the Statue of Liberty, are now more relevant than ever. As more and more people join the debate on illegal immigration, the United States faces an interesting dilemma. Does it send these immigrants away, violating our immigrant tradition, or allow them legal residency with modest penalties? Increasingly, policies appear to look toward European immigration models rather than the idealized “one great period of immigration,” as President Bush called the turn-of-the-century period, “[in which] our nation received some 18 million men, women and children from other nations.” America’s idealized view of it’s immigration past is just that, but it seems a far better basis for immigration policy than the Europeans programs which have recently and blatantly shown their failings. By advocating a guest worker program which seems far more European than American, Bush puts our country at risk of increasing immigrant dissatisfaction and alienation in contradiction to our “history” of traditional assimilation and understanding. This is made all the more clear if we examine the failures of European immigration programs and the successes of America’s idealized immigration mythology.

Where the Bush program first errs is that it borrows heavily from Europe, where immigration policies have largely failed to produce assimilated immigrants. As Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek columnist, points out, “Many Americans have become enamored of the European approach to immigration—perhaps without realizing it.” He explains why this is problematic by saying, “Across Europe one sees disaffected, alienated immigrants, ripe for radicalism.” Zakaria is claiming that Bush’s guest worker program would be inherently flawed, and that those flaws are readily apparent across Europe today. This tells us that we must tread carefully in this debate. If Zakaria is right about the similarities, we have good reason to avoid mimicking this approach to solving our own immigration problems.

The flaws of European guest worker programs are pointed out by Stephen Castles, a sociologist now of Oxford University. Castles argues that these workers, who were first hired after WWII, soon became permanent ethnic minorities who never returned home. He goes so far as to say that “guest-worker systems inevitably lead to permanent migration in the long run, and that it is better to plan for orderly settlement.” By ignoring research like Castles’s, Bush’s program is at risk of developing the same problems that Europe has had. In turning a blind-eye to this research, we’re risking the creation of an unintended pool of immigrants with few legal rights that would further exacerbate our current problems.

The devastating effects of the failures of European guest worker programs was made strikingly clear in the Parisian riots of late 2005. In a story on the riots, CBC News supports Castles claims by pointing out that these rioter were the remnants of the guest worker waves, and that the program created large ethnic neighborhoods that showed a volatile “combination of ethnic concentration and poverty and high unemployment” that made these young people largely dissatisfied and disconnected from the French mainstream. As such, the remnants of the French guest-worker program clearly fomented the riots of 2005. In the absence of efforts to bring these immigrants into the mainstream of French society, due to a lack of foresight on the government planner’s part, Zakaria’s “disaffected, alienated immigrants” were the result.

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politics, USA

After Bush: How to Restore America’s Place in the World

Our (that is to say the United State’s) requirement that all presidents must be natural-born is patently absurd. Though the first person to make me reconsider this rule was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has shown himself to be an incredibly bipartisan and wise Republican in recent times, it is actually Fareed Zakaria, the Newsweek columnist and generally acute observer of world politics, who has pushed me over the edge.

Zakaria has repeatedly astounded me with his ability to look optimistically and critically and all facets of American policy. Further, he synthesizes this analysis into a size that the average person can easily read, digest, and understand in a very short period of time.

Where the New Yorker seems unable to write a thorough analysis in under 60,000 words, Zakaria regularly makes himself understood in a single page. Though his cover story in this week’s Newsweek is longer than that benchmark, none of the words are squandered.

Some of the most interesting observations:

  • “Today, by almost all objective measures, the United States sits on top of the world. But… we have become a nation consumed be fear, worried about terrorists and rouge nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world, we see ourselves besieged and overwhelmed…”
  • Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, “We will never be able to prevent a small group of misfits from planning some terrible act of terror… The real test of American leadership is not whether we can make 100% sure we prevent the attack, the rather how we respond to it… our goal should be resilience… If one day bombs go off, we must ensure as little disruption–economic, social, political–as possible. The would deprive the terrorists of their main objective.”
  • “If America has a core competitive advantage, it is this: every year we take in more immigrant than the rest of the world put together.”
  • “Above all, the United States has to find a way to send a powerful and consistent signal to the world that we understand the struggles that it is involved in–for security, peace, and a better standard of living. As Barack Obama said in a speech in Chicago, ‘It’s time to… send a message to all those men and women beyond our shores who long for lives of dignity and security that says, ‘You matter to us. Your future is our future’.'”
  • “At the end of the day, openness is America’s greatest strength. Many people of both sides of the political aisle have ideas that they believe will keep America strong in the new world–fences, tariffs, subsidies, investments. But America has succeeded not because of the ingenuity of government programs. It has thrived because it has kept itself open to the world… This openness has allowed us to respond fast and flexibly in new economic times, to manage change and diversity with remarkable ease, and to push forward the boundaries of freedom and autonomy.”

These brief quotes fail to do the article justice. If you do yourself no other favor this week, make it reading the Newsweek cover story, either online, or in print.

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