Published May 29, 2007
Let’s take a moment to focus on what’s positive in the latest immigration proposal…from Norway, that is. (Sorry, nothing much worthwhile in the American bill.) It turns out that Conservative-party politicians in Oslo are calling for a moratorium on immigrant-family reunification. (Norway’s Conservative party is fiscally conservative but socially liberal, so this is a novel development.) Oslo city council leader Erling Lae argues that out-of-control family reunification is the most important cause of unemployment, income disparities, and lack of assimilation in Norway’s capital. Pakistani Muslims are a key non-Western group in Norway, and apparently the seclusion of immigrant brides and other female relatives is at the root of Norway’s immigration-driven troubles.
So socially liberal Norway is turning against family reunification, at the very moment Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are moving to broaden the family-reunification provisions of America’s immigration bill. Even without the Clinton and Obama amendments, the Senate bill is slated to speed up family reunification for the next eight years.
That doesn’t mean we should despair…about England, anyway, where, like Norway, the news is encouraging. England’s Tory opposition and Labor government are vying with each other to reform an over-generous family-reunification policy — increasingly recognized as a key cause of failed Muslim assimilation. In Britain, as in Norway, chain migration, powered by arranged (and sometimes forced) cousin marriage, has created a kind of “reverse colony.” Marriage-based family reunification has effectively moved whole sections of clan-centered villages from Pakistan to Britain, inhibiting assimilation, encouraging poverty, and nurturing a cultural dissonance in the young that sometimes leads to Islamist radicalism and terror.
But, hey, no worries. Hillary and Barack have foolproof rationales for their proposed reforms. Introducing an amendment to extend unlimited marriage-based family unification from American citizens to green-card holders, Clinton said, “For those who often speak about family values, this is your opportunity to match your rhetoric with your action.” (Some Christian pro-family groups weren’t sure if Clinton might be right.) For his part, Obama is joining with New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez to offer a series of amendments designed to quickly gut, and eventually eliminate, the merit-based point system supposedly designed to replace family unification as the center of our immigration policy (eight years from now — assuming the already-besieged point system won’t have to face a Clinton or Obama administration). As Obama puts it: “How many of our forefathers would have measured up under this point system? How many would have been turned back at Ellis Island?”
Here we arrive at one of the central difficulties of America’s immigration debate. Mention immigration and many of us conjure up hallowed memories of our ancestors passing through Ellis Island — and of America’s stirring, centuries-long immigration success story. America’s melting-pot is unquestionably one of this country’s great historic triumphs.
Yet the reality of that achievement too easily blinds us to the fact that not all immigration stories end happily. In an era when the assimilationist ethos has been challenged by multiculturalism, when travel, telephones, and satellite dishes continuously link immigrants with homes half-way round the world, and when the cultural gap between immigrant and host cultures can turn into a chasm, we cannot take immigration success for granted.
Nor can pro-family Christians be properly accused of hypocrisy for thinking twice about promoting Asian or Middle-Eastern family values — if those values are radically different from their own. Polygamy? Cousin marriage? Extended clans held together by transnational arranged marriages? If anything these practices (encouraged by permissive family-reunification policies) are seriously undermining Western family values in Europe. Yet neither the pro-family lobby — nor anyone else in America — seems to understand the cultural disaster family-reunification laws have wrought in Europe. After all, Europeans themselves are only just now waking up to the uncomfortable truth.
No one realized what Norway was in for when a newly elected Christian-Democratic government in 1998 decided to pursue a more permissive immigration policy than the previous Labor government. Whereas Sweden and Denmark offered only temporary residence and no family reunification, Norway granted refugees both permanent residence and family reunification. As news of this liberalization spread across the immigrant grapevine, Norway saw a 1,300-percent increase in immigration — most of it from Pakistani Muslims and Iraqi Kurds — while Muslim immigration to Norway’s neighbors remained unchanged. Many of these immigrants forged documents, or otherwise disguised their identities, in order to gain entry as refugees. Once in Norway, many imported their extended families and proceeded to live off of Norway’s generous welfare system. There followed the usual raft of controversies over female seclusion, transnational forced marriages, and honor killings.
Britain has an even longer history with the same dynamic. South Asians (including many Pakistani Muslims) flooded into Britain (as did Muslim immigrants to France and other parts of Europe) during the post-WW II boom years, when employers were looking for cheap, unskilled labor. Most of these immigrants were uneducated, non-English-speaking, highly traditional villagers. I tell the story of the assimilation disaster wrought by the marriage-based chain migration of these Pakistani migrants in “Assimilation Studies” and “Assimilation Studies II.”
Left out of those pieces is the tale of the Blair government’s ill-fated liberalization of family-reunification laws — one of the very first acts of “New Labor,” a decade ago. Blair’s “humanitarian” liberalization of marriage-based family-reunification laws effectively doubled the number of transnational arranged cousin marriages, established an additional major barrier to Muslim assimilation, and kicked off a raft of “sham marriages.” (In these sham marriages, Pakistani men marry Muslim British women, leave their British wives after living in Britain long enough to obtain visas, then use family reunification laws to bring over another wife from Pakistan.) The current rush to reform Britain’s marriage-based family-reunification laws is, in part, a belated attempt to undo the disaster precipitated by Blair’s decade-old liberalization.
The broader point is that the history of Muslim immigration in Europe stands on the opposite end of the spectrum of immigration possibilities as America’s great success story. In the European example, we have a concrete case of low-skill immigration successfully feeding an economic boom, while also setting in motion dangerous cultural consequences that would come back a generation later to haunt the West. Pro-business immigration supporters sometimes seem oblivious to the fact that this kind of cultural backfire from economically beneficial immigration is possible. Yet in Europe, a worst-case immigration scenario is playing out right now.
True, the United States isn’t Europe. Multiculturalism notwithstanding, we are still far better than our continental brethren at assimilating immigrants. And Hispanic migrants are undoubtedly less distant from American culture than Muslims are from the culture of Europe. Yet, balancing America’s traditional assimilationist strengths against modern challenges like multiculturalism, globalizing technology, and radically non-Western immigrants, it’s not unreasonable to believe that the U.S. is in real danger of ending up somewhere in the middle of the immigration spectrum — half-way between our former success and the current European fiasco. So in the new and deeply challenging global immigration environment, exactly how America handles its family-reunification policy could make the difference between success and failure.
To begin with, we can in no way assume that the problems associated with Muslim family reunification will remain confined to Europe. Take a look at this Associated Press story on the new immigration bill. The article offers a multiculturalist argument against cut-backs in extended-family-reunification laws — calling for American acceptance of the very same Pakistani Muslim family system that’s blocked assimilation in England and Norway. Talk about a slippery slope, this article offers the “family diversity” argument usually deployed in defense of gay marriage, but now presented as a justification for in-marrying extended Muslim clans in the West. Yet the article omits to mention that the controversial practice of cousin marriage is the cornerstone of the family system being described.
Multiculturalism may have triumphed over assimilation among America’s media and cultural elites, but could the distinctively European pattern of Muslim immigration and failed assimilation really emerge over here? It may have already happened in the case of the terrorist plot to murder American soldiers at Fort Dix. (See “Immigration and Fort Dix.”) Several of the Fort Dix plotters were members of the extended Duka clan, which originated in the Macedonian village of Debar. Although we still don’t know the details, it seems likely that the Duka clan entered the United States through a combination of illegal immigration and legal family reunification — all the while maintaining constant and collective ties to its home village, limiting assimilation in its members, and inadvertently pushing culturally alienated youngsters toward Islamist radicalism, on the classic European pattern.
The Duka family was part of a larger influx of ethnic Albanian Muslims following “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia. Many of those refugees were processed at Fort Dix — which in effect became their Ellis Island. It says something about our era that a new “Ellis Island” has already been targeted for a terrorist massacre.
Since we reform our immigration laws only at the interval of decades, we ought to ask whether the liberal-family reunification policies favored by Senators Clinton and Obama may be in effect during future Yugoslavia-like influxes. If our Iraq venture fails, if a President Clinton or Obama withdraws our troops from Iraq, if a nuclear Iran kicks off a Sunni-Shiite civil war in the Middle East, the chaos and refugee flows emerging from the Middle East are potentially massive. By extending unlimited marriage-based family reunification to green-card holders and/or by killing off the merit-based point system and reemphasizing family unification, we could be setting ourselves up for a European-style immigration nightmare.
Hillary Clinton’s amendment seems least threatening in this regard, since it applies to children and spouses, rather than extended family members. Yet Muslims traditionally marry extended family members, and have historically used liberal marriage-unification laws to effectively import unassimilated extended family networks to the West. It’s also possible that extending unlimited marriage reunification to green-card holders could stimulate a market in transnational marriages among other ethnic groups. Once marriage became a ticket to Europe, the percentage of arranged, transnational cousin marriages among Muslim immigrants substantially increased. Likewise, with American green-card marriage caps abolished, other immigrant groups could turn to some form of transnational marriage as a conveyor belt to the United States. As in Europe, marriage-based chain migration would effectively block assimilation by guaranteeing a continually renewed supply of marriage partners unfamiliar with Western ways.
Something like this actually happened when the current immigration act passed in 1965. The various numerical restrictions built into that law were effectively obviated by provisions exempting spouses, dependent children, and parents of American citizens from any immigration limits. The unintended consequence of the citizen reunification rules was a massive surge in immigration. So if the Clinton amendment now extends those citizen exemptions to green card holders, we can expect another massive, “uncappable” immigration surge — which could easily cancel out other attempted controls.
Married His Mother
Although the Senate compromise supposedly replaces family reunification with a merit-based point system, the bill actually accelerates extended family reunification for eight years. Even then, the proposed future restrictions on family reunification have come under attack for undermining “Asian family values” (Is America now obliged to support “Asian family values?”), and even for anti-Asian “racism.” Given the fact that educated and English-competent Asians will actually be favored under the new point system, the charge of racism is absurd. The goal of this bill is not to exclude Asians, but to bring over Asian immigrants as individuals, rather than as extended families and clans. That is our best guarantor of successful assimilation. The problem is that the compromise bill fails to accomplish the task, and could have still more disastrous effects if the Clinton and Obama amendments pass.
Like that Associated Press piece on Pakistani extended families, the media has been filled with stories sympathetically portraying the plight of separated immigrant families seeking unification. Here’s a New York Times story about the pain caused to immigrant families when DNA tests reveal that children and parents are not in fact related.
The Times says it found “no evidence of wrongdoing” by the families it interviewed, but the lure of family reunification is famous for provoking “wrongdoing.” Here’s the remarkable story of an Iraqi refugee who married his mother in an attempt to use marriage-unification laws to bring his family to Norway. An extreme case, to be sure, but also an indication of the ingenuity that goes into exploiting family unification.
Along with educated, English-speaking Asians, the new point system would likely favor certain African and Middle Eastern immigrants, many of whom have good English and educational credentials. This is particularly true of Egyptians, and again raises the prospect of a new class of Muslim immigrants drawing in extended family networks through clan-based in-marriage. Note that the 9/11 terrorists would themselves have done rather well under the new point system. After all, they had technical degrees and spoke English.
Israel has faced a similar problem. Some 40 percent of Israeli Arabs involved in suicide attacks in 2006 were naturalized, a fact which has prompted the Knesset to deny family-reunification rights to citizens of the Palestinian authority, and four states: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran. Given that national survival is literally at stake, it’s tough to see what alternative Israel had.
In short, while the rest of the West has been reeling from the unintended consequences of liberal family-unification laws in an age of terror, the United States is rushing headlong toward that very danger. A bill that supposedly moves us away from family-based immigration and toward an individual merit system will in fact accelerate family reunification for eight years.
The Obama amendment aims to quickly gut, and eventually kill, the point system. Such a killer amendment would likely scuttle the deal. Obama’s political statement may not pass. Yet in offering it, Obama is effectively promising that, as president, he would put the point system to rest.
On the other hand, Clinton’s amendment extending the unlimited reunification of spouses and children from American citizens to green-card holders, could very well pass (perhaps with a slight delay on processing backlogged claims). The Clinton amendment is politically difficult to oppose. Who could be against uniting nuclear families? But combine unlimited spousal unification with Muslim in-marriage, and the stage is set for a future immigration and assimilation disaster. With Asian and Middle Eastern family values now in play, best let our green card holders adjust to American life, perhaps form a family here in the United States, and gain American citizenship, before extending to them a privilege heretofore reserved for American citizens alone. As they say nowadays in Norway, “integration before immigration.” Otherwise, a decade or so down the road we may find ourselves where Norway, Britain, and Israel are today.
— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.