Tag Archives: assimilation

Swamping by Immigrants is Hardly Possible

Restrictionists often bring up a scenario where there are so many immigrants that natives become a tiny minority. In this post, I would like to show that under broad conditions this is not possible: immigrants will almost always remain a minority and will not even come close to becoming a majority. Even if they become a majority, it will not last long and that’s only if you make rather extreme assumptions. Actual swamping with a huge majority of immigrants presupposes even more outlandish assumptions. It is not impossible, but more of a theoretical possibility. If you are afraid of such a scenario you can avoid it with a rather modest restriction on the number of immigrants that for most purposes is not too far from open borders.

In the following discussion, I understand the terms “immigrant” and “native” rather literally: an immigrant is someone who immigrates to a country from another country where he grew up (and so he is an adult or at most an adolescent), and a native is someone who grew up in the country or will grow up there. Even more literally, you could understand this as the distinction between those who are foreign-born and those who are native-born. However, this is a rather technical definition. E.g. the current CEO of Daimler, Dieter Zetsche, was born in Istanbul, so you would have to classify him as an immigrant from Turkey in this sense although he has lived in Germany since he was three years old. Whether you view someone as an immigrant or a native should probably depend more on where someone grew up most of the time. Therefore, I will classify also those as natives who come to the country at a very young age even if they were born abroad. If you have ever seen how fast young children can pick up a new language, this is perhaps not unreasonable. Even if you disagree with me and go for the narrower definition, the results do not change a lot.

You could also have a different view because you think that children of immigrants and maybe even their grandchildren and so forth stay close to the culture their ancestors came from. You might assume persistence for some or all of their traits and that also the descendents of immigrants remain foreign (at least for some time and to a certain extent). I will address the implications of such a broader definition below. But for the moment I would like to stick with the narrower definition and define anyone as native who has lived in the country from age 10 on, and all others I will classify as immigrants.

Why is swamping such a convincing scenario for many people? My guess is that they run a naïve analysis as follows: Suppose you have 100 million people in a country, and each year 5 million immigrate. In the following, I assume no population growth for natives and immigrants to make things more transparent. Then after twenty years, there are 100 million immigrants. It would seem that the total population has risen to 200 million, of whom now natives are only 50%. One year down the road, natives apparently become a minority. After a century, you might think there will be a total of 500 million immigrants, so natives make up only one sixth of the total population then. This would be a situation that people probably have in mind, when they speak of the threat of swamping by immigrants.

The problem with this reasoning is that it is false. This is so because the naïve analysis ignores two separate effects.

The first effect is that although each year another 5 million immigrate, the total number of immigrants in the country will not rise indefinitely as a naïve analysis might suggest. If immigrants come at age 25 and have a life expectancy of 80 years, then after 55 years the initial immigrants will have died out on average. Surely, there will be new immigrants, but after a little more than half a century, they only replace immigrants who came earlier. Hence, with a fixed number of immigrants per year, the total number of immigrants in the country will eventually level off. It is a mistake to extrapolate from the growth you see in the beginning to indefinite growth. Here is what it looks like (I use the stylized assumptions from my previous post “Misinterpreting Growth of Immigrant Populations” for mortality, and I assume that immigrants come at age 25):

Immigrant Population over 100 years

The immigrant population grows linearly at first. But after about half a century, its growth slows down because previous immigrants die. After about 70 years, growth comes to a standstill, and the immigrant population stabilizes at about 288 million people (the exact number depends on my assumptions, my purpose here is only to demonstrate the effect, not its exact size in all situations).

The first effect is perhaps rather obvious once you have understood it, and it could easily be incorporated into the naïve analysis. So it would still seem as if natives end up in a minority of 1 to 2.88 or slightly more than a quarter of the total population. However, there is another effect that is even stronger and which starts to operate almost right away. And it is far less obvious. This second effect is the momentum effect that I have described in my previous post “Misinterpreting Growth of Immigrant Populations.” Feel free to read the post for further details. I will explain the effect anyway in a few words, so you can get the thrust of it even without this background.

The momentum effect in the above scenario works like this. The 5 million who arrive in one year are mostly young people who will soon start a family. With replacement fertility (my assumption to focus solely on the momentum effect to the exclusion of other effects), they will have about one child per immigrant (two per couple) over the next years. This means there are not only the 5 million immigrants, but also an additional 5 million children who are, by my narrow definition, natives (some of them were technically born abroad, but entered the country at age less than 10). When the children are old enough they again have children. With replacement fertility, those are another 5 million people who are also natives. Hence you have 2 to 1 natives per immigrant. Since a few of the initial immigrants have died by then, the ratio is a little lower (1.76 to 1 with the stylized assumptions in my previous post). Here is what it looks like (note that in my previous post I looked at immigration in one year whereas here I have a fixed number of immigrants each year, so this is an overlay of many such one-time cases):

Generations over 100 years

On the bottom you have immigrants (blue) as in the above graph (by assumption they come at age 25). The next two layers are their children (red), and their grandchildren (green). And the uppermost layer are all their further descendents (i.e. fourth and higher generations). As you can see, the first effect also applies to the second and third generations and for the same reasons, it only comes later. This becomes more obvious over 200 years:

Generations over 200 years

The uppermost layer keeps growing because there is a constant influx of immigrants. Each annual cohort grows into a population 2.76 times as large and then levels off. This means no people are lost, and because there are new immigrants each year, total population keeps growing (eventually by 2.76 times annual immigration per year).

Now, by assumption, there was also an initial native population of 100 million. I will add them to the uppermost layer (basically, this is the assumption that fourth and higher generation immigrants are natives in any sense). Here’s what you get:

Generations plus Natives

Per my narrow definition only the lowest layer consists of immigrants, all the other people are natives. Here is how the share of immigrants in the total population develops over time:

Share of Immigrants

At first, with more and more immigration, the share of immigrants rises. But after some time, their descendents start to expand the native population, so there is a deceleration until the immigrant share peaks slightly below 40%. Later, when the immigrant population stagnates and the population of their descendents keeps growing (plus the initial native population), the share of immigrants falls off again.

Now immigration of 5% of the initial population is very heavy. Why? As you can see in the above graph, total population grows to more than 12 times its initial size over a century. For a country like the US (circa 320 million in 2015), this would mean that population grows to about 4 billion over a century. Possible, but rather extreme as an assumption.

You might object that for smaller countries it could happen. It surely becomes easier. But take a country like Germany with currently some 81 million inhabitants. Its population would rise to one billion people with this level of immigration. But then population density might work as a limiting factor. Population in Germany is now at 226 per square kilometer (583 per square mile). If it went up by a factor of more than 12, then Germany would have an average population density as the most populated parts of Germany have right now. Or in other words: Germany would become one huge city. Possible, but again pretty extreme. And even then the share of immigrants in the total population would not exceed 40% ever. After a century it would even have fallen to below a quarter of total population. Compare this to the result from the naïve analysis how natives will be only one sixth of total population after a century.

Let’s see how the maximum share of immigrants comes out for other levels of annual immigration, and how far one has to go out to achieve a maximum of 50% at least at the peak. Here’s a graph with the number of immigrants per year in millions on the x-axis (reference population of 100 million), and the maximum share of immigrants on the y-axis:

Towards a Majority

Hence to reach a share of 50% immigrants in the total population (even if only for a short peak after which it falls off again), one would have to have 18 million immigrants each year for an initial population of 100 million. But that implies that total population (even with replacement fertility) will grow to about 45 times its initial size over a century. For the US, this would work out to a population of about 14 billion people, more than total world population according to most projections. And for Germany, it would amount to a population of more than 3.5 billion people. That’s not impossible, but looks rather outlandish as a scenario.

The conclusion from all this is: For all practical purposes, there will never be a majority of immigrants. (I will discuss a few exceptional cases in the appendix, but those do not apply for large countries like the US or Germany. Or you have to make assumptions that would be much worse than swamping .)

Even if you are scared that immigration could become so strong that for a short time immigrants become a majority, all you have to do is introduce a limit on immigration of less than 18 million for an initial population of 100 million. 50 million per year would do for the US, and 14 million for Germany which is orders of magnitude above current levels (below one percent of the population, maybe this year slightly above for Germany).

Now, one objection could be that my definition of immigrants is too narrow, that also second generation immigrants or maybe even third generation immigrants would have to count as immigrants because they stay (partly) foreign. Here is the peak for the share of immigrants, of immigrants + second generation, and of immigrants + second generation + third generation, depending on the number of immigrants per year in millions (reference population 100 million):

Towards Swamping

The blue line is the line I had above for immigrants alone. The red line is for the first two generations together, and the green line for the first three generations together (the peak occurs at a later point in time, so you do not have these shares at the same time). As for the first two generations: they become a majority for about 1.25 million immigrants per year (initial population of 100 million). As for the first three generations, they become a majority for annual immigration of slightly more than 0.6 million immigrants per year.

Of course, it becomes easier and easier to achieve a majority, the more inclusive the definition of “immigrants” becomes. However, it would still only mean a majority at the peak before it falls off again. While a majority for immigrants is almost impossible, it is conceivable for immigrants + second generation, and even more so, if you add the third generation in. Restrictionists are concerned that a majority could change the culture materially or take the country over via the political process. This may sound more plausible if you assume a vast majority of immigrants who are perhaps rather foreign (but also that they are homogeneous or can easily overcome coordination problems). However, that is hardly possible if you have to include the second or even the third generation. It could only happen if you assume very slow assimilation. I will not pursue this here, but will address this point in a further post.

I only discussed the lowest level of “swamping” so far, i.e. that there is a majority of immigrants at some point in time. To get real “swamping”, one would have to have a much higher share of immigrants. If swamping is something like a level of 80%, it is not possible for immigrants alone, or only under totally outlandish assumptions. It is still hard to achieve for the first two generations together because one would have to go to a level of at least 8.5 million immigrants per year (100 million reference population). And even for the first three generations together, one would have to assume 3.5 million immigrants each year for an initial population of 100 million.

As I already noted above: 5 million immigrants each year is a pretty extreme assumption, and even 3.5 million would still mean that total population grows to more than 9.5 times its initial size over a century. For the US, this would amount to more than three billion people. However, here is what the population structure at the peak after 65 years would look like: 31% immigrants, 33% second generation, 17% third generation, and 19% fourth and higher generations plus initial natives and their descendents. Even with moderate assimilation (e.g. a quarter per generation), the effective share of natives (natives in a narrow sense plus the assimilated part of the first three generations) would be a clear majority even in this scenario. As I said, I will leave a more thorough discussion to a further post. But maybe my conclusion is already clear: only with very low assimilation or even reverse assimilation (i.e. of natives to the immigrant culture) can such a swamping scenario play out with very high immigration. Cultural and political results would also presuppose that immigrants are very homogeneous or at least easy to coordinate.

Let me just sum up the main results of this post:

Under broad assumptions, serious swamping by immigrants is practically impossible. A slight majority at the peak presupposes very high levels of immigration and is also hardly possible. For the first two generations to achieve a majority, you still need rather extreme levels of immigration. Maybe you could see a majority for the first three generations together, but then you also have to make an assumption of very slow assimilation and rather homogeneous immigrants to find this concerning. Even moderate assimilation over three generations would mean that the effectively native part of the population remains a clear majority.


As I noted above, there are some exceptional cases where something like “swamping” can come to pass. I would like to address them here and also why they are irrelevant for large countries like the US or Germany.

  •  You can have swamping for new settlers on uninhabitated land: there are simply no natives, so the settler culture will prevail by default. This can happen especially in agricultural societies with little need to cooperate with other settlers of a different origin. But then, such a case does not apply for the US or Germany now.
  • A similar case would be after ethnic cleansing: In a first step you drive away the previous population or kill them off, and then you resettle the new land. You can make such an assumption, but then you should be less concerned about swamping and more about  ethnic cleansing and even genocide. And you would have to explain how this is a realistic scenario.
  • Another variant is if immigration exceeds initial native population by orders of magnitude. E.g. there were a few million Native Americans in what it now the US, and then there was immigration of ten times as many people or so. In addition, there was hardly any incentive or opportunity to assimilate to native culture, so also all descendents remained foreign (as viewed by Native Americans). However, immigration of ten times the current population to the US would mean more than 3 billion immigrants. With the momentum effect, this would build up to an additional population of more than 7 billion. Or in other words: after two generations, everybody in the world would be in the US. Possible, but perhaps a little extreme as an assumption. And then there is no reason to believe there would be no incentive or opportunity to assimilate to American culture. Quite the opposite.
  • Small countries (more like city states or smaller) can have very high rates of immigration and hence a high share of immigrants, simply because they are so small and it does not take a lot of immigrants. Examples would be American Samoa (40,000 inhabitants and 71% immigrants) or the Carribean Netherlands (12,000 and 66%). However, note: for this to be sustainable you have to have very fast population growth. An example would be New York City where population in 1900 was more than 50 times population in 1800. But again, that cannot happen for large countries or countries which have some constraint for population density.
  • A funny example, and perhaps the only real example where “swamping” occurs is a country with fertility of 0 and regular immigration. The native population keeps dying out and is being replaced by immigrants. Actually, there is such a country: the Vatican which has 100% immigrants. Strangely enough, no one believes that the culture of the Vatican suffers from this “swamping.”
  • My argument relies on the momentum effect. If it does not apply or only to a lesser degree then the share of immigrants can become larger. There are several cases where this is possible: (1) The country is a destination for pensioners: they won’t have any children and their previous children might not want to join them. This case is similar to the Vatican. (2) Immigrants who are not allowed to bring in their families. This is the typical situation for the Gulf States where the share of immigrants can be very high: UAE with 84% immigrants, Qatar 74%, and Kuweit 70%. However, this is atypical because it depends on temporary immigration which makes concerns over cultural change or a political takeover a moot point. With permanent immigration the above arguments apply. (3) Immigration of the whole population pyramid including older generations. This can happen with refugees who are forced from their homes. An example of a country with a high share of immigrants because of refugees is Jordan with about 40% immigrants. In this case, there is no or only a mild momentum effect. But note: you also need a rather small country and the share will fall from there because it is hard to sustain the necessary levels of immigration over time. (4) A milder variant of this case is if immigrants come later in life or bring more of their older relatives in (but maybe not all of them). This attentuates the momentum effect and can lead to a higher share of immigrants. However, with a fixed absolute number it also means that effective immigration (people of reproductive age) is lower and the eventual level is lower.
  • If you exclude all exceptional cases with little import for large countries (thinly populated territories, city states with a hinterland that is not counted, the Gulf States regime) and focus on larger countries, the highest share for immigrants are in Switzerland with 29% immigrants and Australia with 28% immigrants. Although it might seem that those are rather low shares, according to the above analysis, the share of immigrants is already rather high. And a further increase hence presupposes much higher levels of immigration to approach 40% and 50%.
  • The share of immigrants can be higher with accelerating immigration, e.g. as a fixed percentage of a growing population. However, this means you get exponential growth for the total population instead of linear growth. This makes the situation even less sustainable.
  • You can have “swamping” by immigrants and all their descendents if there is no assimilation because their numbers keep growing and they remain foreign. With reverse assimilation (to the immigrant culture) the effect could be even stronger. An example would be the Roman Empire where there was a strong incentive for people in newly occupied territories to assimilate to the culture of the Roman “immigrants.” Here immigrants were simply conquerors and it was important for the native population to assimilate to their culture. If you assume that your country is occupied and “immigrants” exert a pull towards their culture because they are in positions of power and wealth, you should be concerned about a military occupation in the first place, not swamping.

Miscellaneous Remarks


  1. There seems to be something about Daimler and Turkey. Edzard Reuter, predecessor of Dieter Zetsche, was born in Berlin in 1928. Since his father was a well-known Social Democrat (mayor of Berlin from 1948 to 1953), the family had to flee Germany in 1935 and obtained asylum in Turkey where Edzard Reuter grew up from age 7 to 17. As far as I know he is fluent in Turkish. So you would have to count him as an immigrant from Turkey. Possibly that was his experience in 1945 although he, of course, also had a strong connection with Germany through his family.
  2. If you insist on the share of the foreign-born and not just immigrants who grew up elsewhere, you would have to include the children brought along by immigrants. With my standard assumptions, an immigrant at age 25 brings 0.22 children along. So you would have to increase all numbers by about 22%. But then your assumption is that someone’s birthplace has a deep influence on their development independent of where they grow up or who their parents are. If you think that the environment you grow up in is the most important aspect, then you would end up with my definition (up to small adjustments). And if you think that the important aspect is that parents influence their children, then you would have to look at immigrants and all their children, no matter where they were born. If you think both play a role, you have to take something in between. Classification as “foreign-born” has perhaps more to do with the fact that it is comparably easy to track someone’s birth place versus where they grew up most of the time or what group their parents belong to.
  3. “Swamping” is a vague concept, and it can mean different things to different people. One other sense might be that population in a country rises a lot, and that could have negative consequences. My arguments make such a scenario more probable because they show that immigration leads to more growth than the sheer number of immigrants alone. I can’t have it both ways: If open borders means that many people have a chance to move to rich countries, then the population in rich countries will have to rise. And if a transfer of many people is optimal, then population will have to rise considerably. Assimilation to rather low native fertility in rich countries, mostly below replacement, might mitigate the effect, though, but only over a longer timeframe.
  4. Impeding family reunion works somewhat like the immigration regime in the Gulf States: either children stay in the source country and so immigrants can become a larger share of the total population. Or children immigrate only after they have (partly) grown up in another country and so would have to count as immigrants, too. Keeping children out means that they will not grow up as natives. Since these are the same people, eventually numbers are the same, so such restrictions can only slow the initial build-up down, but do not change the end result. Likewise for bringing in parents and grandparents. They will not change the end result because they will not have an impact on further development.
  5. One assumption that might look like a trick is that I work with replacement fertility. Maybe this is counterintuitive for some, but higher fertility of immigrants makes it even harder for immigrants to become a majority, let alone “swamp” the native population. Since there are now more children and even more grandchildren, immigrants themselves make up a lower share. So if you are concerned about swamping you would have to applaud high fertility. It also tilts the distribution towards those who have been longer in the country and hence are more assimilated.
  6. One other conclusion from the discussion is that every new cohort of immigrants comes to a country that is overwhelmingly native in culture. There is also a strong incentive to assimilate. So there is hardly a chance that native culture will be replaced by some other culture. This is even more so because immigrants are not a homogenous population. Hence it is very plausible that native culture will serve as a lingua franca for various groups of immigrants. This contradicts Nathan Smith’s vision of a country where there are huge masses of people who are not part of native culture (apart from that, I think Nathan Smith also misses the momentum effect and hence his scenario is also implausible in other ways, I will get back to that).

Related reading

The Life of First-Generation Immigrants in Canada

As part of our efforts to better understand global migration, we accept submissions from people or groups who have experience or direct involvement with immigration. This post, submitted by My Visa Source, a Canadian immigration firm, examines the experience of first-generation immigrants to Canada.

Leaving your familiar homeland to live out your life in a new and radically different environment is an experience both difficult and rewarding. Despite the demands of learning a new language and cultural framework and the many risks inherent in the transition to a new country, millions choose to take up this challenge every single year.

Why Do People Choose the Life of a First-Generation Immigrant?

Few opt for the life of an immigrant out of a mere sense of adventure and curiosity. In most cases, one or more of the following factors will be involved in the decision:

  • The prospect of a better economic situation
  • The opportunity for the immigrant or his/her children to achieve important educational goals
  • The desire to be with relatives or friends who have already immigrated
  • Conditions of poverty, persecution, or discrimination in their native land

In sum, we could say that most immigrants are looking for a chance to live a better life. They often have not only their own futures in view, but also the future betterment of their children and grandchildren.

How Is a First-Generation Immigrant Defined?

“First-generation immigrant,” as used here and in most other contexts, refers to a foreign-born individual who becomes a citizen or permanent resident of another nation. Some have used the term to refer to the first generation born in the new land, but we shall refer to that as “second generation” immigrant. In Canada, 55% of second generation immigrants had two foreign-born parents, with the remaining 45% having only one.

The National Household Survey of 2011 broke down the Canadian population as follows:

  1. 22% were first-generation immigrants
  2. 17% were second-generation
  3. 61% were third-generation or more

Where Do Most First-Generation Immigrants Live?

Over 80% of Canadian immigrant families live in major metropolitan areas like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. They are fairly evenly spread across the country, but British Columbia and Ontario are the only two provinces where first and second generation immigrants total over 50% of the population. Quebec and Newfoundland have significantly low numbers of immigrants.

How Long Does Assimilation Take?

Most second generation immigrants in Canada are fully assimilated, but those born abroad may take a life time to adjust to the culture. In the process, they will also contribute to the culture, enriching it and expanding it. Canadian immigrants come from over 200 nations of the world, so it is not surprising if many immigrants experience intense “culture shock” upon first arrival. Nonetheless, with a willingness to be flexible and learn new things, a greater “blending in” will inevitably occur with the passing of time.

One of the main challenges to Canadian first-generation immigrants is simply finding adequate employment. Studies of Canadian immigrants over the last 25 years have shown that linguistic, cultural, and informational barriers tend to make their employment opportunities fewer and lower-paying initially. In the long-term, however, immigrants actually out-perform their Canadian-born counterparts. Blending into the workforce, or “economic assimilation,” is one important aspect of immigrant assimilation.

While immigrants to Canada were mostly from Europe, today most come from Asia. This has increased the linguistic and cultural “distance” at which immigrants begin assimilation, but this has not changed the fact that those born in Canada grow up well integrated into the new language and cultural systems. Even ethnic “visibility” decreases over time: 60% of first-generation immigrants to Canada are considered “visible immigrants,” 30% of second-generation, and only 1% of third-generation. Finally, there is some debate as to whether Canada will be a “melting pot” or a “cultural mosaic” in years ahead. If the latter, the degree of assimilation required will be lessened.

How Strong are First-Generation Immigrant Families?

Most Canadian immigrants tend to have very strong familial bonds. Partly, this stems from the cultural milieu of their country of origin, but it also is tied in with the immigrant situation. A strong sense of family obligation often leads children of first-generation immigrants to high academic achievement as well as long-term residence with/near their parents. While the stresses and strains of the immigration undertaking can be great, the overall effect on immigrant families is generally beneficial in every realm: academic, economic, and social.

The Prospects for Assimilation for First-Generation Immigrants

While immigrant communities often tend to initially form small enclaves in major cities, it only takes one generation for assimilation to occur. First-generation immigrants may never fully forget the ways of “the old country,” but they can gradually acquire a second culture in “the new country.” Total immersion will, over time, wear away the effects of culture shock. New friends and acquaintances, local family ties, and participation in social events will help them to “feel at home” and gain a sense of belonging. Like transplanted trees, first-generation immigrants’ lives will thrive as they put down deep roots in new soil.

Related reading

This section has been added by Open Borders: The Case editorial staff. The author of the original piece is not responsible for it.

Related Open Borders: The Case blog posts:

Other related material:

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Where are the Spanish tweets?

A few years ago I was on a date with an open borders skeptic. While chatting my date complained that Hispanics were not assimilating quickly enough and refused to learn the language. I pointed out that her family was descended from Poles who had come over only a few generations ago. Today not one of them, including herself, could speak Polish. Why did she think Spanish would fare any better?

My date was not alone in her concern about language assimilation. One does not need to search far to find someone making the same basic argument: X group is not learning the language quickly enough. This will lead to the destruction of our nation! Or worse – the United States will become another Belgium.

I could write a few thousand words discussing why the United States doesn’t have to worry about becoming Belgium. Not that there is anything wrong with Belgium. Instead though I will present a question and a map.

Where are the Spanish tweets?


J.B. Post, Ken, and Peter Berlich have constructed a map showing the world by language use in twitter. North American is solidly grey (English). The only exception is the urban core of Quebec where French (in violet) has managed to persist. A few spots of pink (Spanish) can be seen in Mexico, but they fail to penetrate the US border. The full map can be shown here.

The beauty of the twitter map is that it shows us the language of choice among the millennial demographic, twitter’s core user base. First generation migrants may retain use of their native tongues but their millennial children certainly aren’t tweeting in Spanish, Chinese, or Tagalog. If migrants are not assimilating quickly enough we should see Spanish tweets dominating Texas, Florida, and California. Instead we see English continues to dominate the North American continent. Indeed, I suspect that the internet age has encouraged both English adoption among millennial children of migrants and by the world as a whole.

Further Reading:

Open Borders: The Case Page on Linguistic Assimilation, Linguistic and Cultural Fluency Requirements, and Assimilation Problems

Nathan Smith on Linguistic Externalities.

Vipul Naik on Two subtle lessons from the “Your in America” twitter bot. 

Open Borders page on Bloggers as Illegal Immigrants.

Movies About Open Borders, Family, and Cannoli

We’ve reached that part of the year where most of the western world is simply resting. The exact traditions may vary, but chances are that your home currently houses a good portion of your extended family. Even those who might wish to return to work can only manage to escape for a few minutes before being dragged into a game of twister or having a plate of food placed in front of them.

In recognition of this allow me to offer the following family-friendly movie recommendations. Although these films center around migration they don’t attempt to shove political messages down your throat so don’t worry about getting into fights with relatives.

Name: Under the Same Moon (2007)

Language: English & Spanish

Summary: The film tells the story of Carlitos, an unaccompanied child, as he makes his journey to reunite with his mother in Los Angeles. Especially topical given this past summer’s events.

One of the things I love about this film is that it was released seven years ago during the Bush administration well before DACA had been announced or Obama was even a household name.


Name:  Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

Language: English

Summary: Follows the life of Cecil Gaines, a butler who served in the White House through the 20th century. Cecil was born in the south but migrates northward, eventually finding himself in DC, in search of better economic opportunity. The film is rare is being one of the few to address the Great Migration, the mass migration of blacks from the south to the north, midwest, and western US.

The later half of the film deals with Cecil’s struggle with his son. His son believes that blacks must confront institutional racism in the south through direct action. Cecil on the other hand seems to think that the best course of action is to migrate out of the south.


Name: An American Tail (1986)

Language: English

Summary: Follows a group of Russian mice who have migrated to New York City. During their journey across the Atlantic their youngest son, Fievel, gets lost and must find his family in the new country.

Although the film depicts fictional cartoon mice, it is inspired by the real experiences of migrants entering the United States during the turn of the century.


Name: Instructions Not Included (2013)

Language: English & Spanish

Summary: Dead-beat Valentin wakes up one day to find a baby on his porch along with a note stating that he is the father. The film follows Valentin and his daughter’s (Maggie) lives as they migrate to America in search of a better life.

The film breaks stereotypes at every turn and it pays off well.

Maggie might have entered the United States illegally but she has white skin, blue eyes, and blond hair. Her mother had been an American tourist.

Valentin spends well over a decade in the United States and can’t speak English, but the film goes out of its way to make it clear this is because Valentin is a dead beat. In an early scene Valentin is shocked when he tries to speak with others he assumes to be fellow Mexican migrants only to discover they aren’t fluent in Spanish.


Name: The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, and 1990)

Language: English

Summary:  A generational epic that follows the Corleone family beginning with the patriarch Vito’s migration from Sicily to the New York City, continuing with Micheal, and ending with the third generation.

The Godfather Trilogy is one of those films everyone knows about, but which few people have sat down long enough to fully enjoy. For example, one of the prevailing themes of the film is assimilation and I don’t think many people get that.

In the opening scene of the trilogy we are greeted by the ‘I believed in America‘ speech delivered by an Italian migrant. The migrant tells us how he put his trust in the American dream, raised his children as good Americans, and followed the American law but was still met with injustice. So to wrong that justice he went to Don Corleone on the day of his daughter’s wedding…

I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion…

Don Vito himself makes it clear that he knows he is looked down upon as a petty criminal, but he doesn’t feel the need to apologize for his actions since all he has done was with the hope that his children could be full Americans. He looked forward to the day when one of his descendants would be ‘Senator Corleone’.


Name: My Family (1995)

Language: English and Spanish

Summary: Another generational epic in the same vein as the Godfather trilogy. My Family depicts the Sanchez, a Mexican-American family that settles down in East Los Angeles.

As readers must have noted by now, quite a bit of recent films depicting migrants focus on hispanics. This should be no surprise given that hispanics have dominated migration waves in the past decades. My Family is unique among Hispanic-migrant oriented films in that it doesn’t really deal with illegal immigration.

The film does deal with the Chicano movement, the Bracero program, the Mexican-American War, the Salvadoran Civil War, and other events crucial to understanding American Hispanic culture but its clear that its catering towards those American Hispanics who are already at the end of the assimilation cycle.

The film begins with the family patriach moving to Los Angeles to live with an uncle. The uncle, nicknamed El Californio, makes it clear that he isn’t a Mexican-American. He was born in California before it was lost to transferred over to the US following the Mexican-American War. El Californio was born in Mexico and as far as he’s concerned he still lives in Mexico.

His relatives on the other hand are less nationalistic and you note this by the language the characters speak in. Early on Spanish dominates the film but around midway the use of Spanish becomes less frequent. At the end of the film the use of Spanish is rare.

Merry Christmas: From natives, immigrants, and foreigners

This is a guest post by Scott Freeman, a London-based consultant and economics graduate from the University of Exeter. He is a former member of the national coordinating council for the Libertarian Party of the United Kingdom, and a participant in the Free State Project, which aims to move 20,000 liberty-loving activists to New Hampshire. As a result, he hopes to soon migrate to the United States and help others move more freely, in either direction across the Atlantic.

Christmas is traditionally a time both of “good will to all men,” and, falling at the end of the year, of quiet reflection. It seems fitting then to consider the influence on our celebration of this period that has been exercised by ‘all men’; not only those born native to our country, but also immigrants and travellers who have made their way here, and those residing in foreign lands who have affected us from afar.

While economic worries play a major role in the widespread support for increased controls on immigration, protection of a national culture is also a prime concern. A 2013 study found that 35% of Americans and 56% of Britons surveyed agreed that immigration has a negative effect on national culture.1 Another study split survey respondents into seven groups describing their attitude to immigration. Those primarily characterised by ‘cultural concerns’ about immigration were the joint-most numerous of the classifications, accounting for 16% of respondents.2

In scholarly thought, too, cultural protection is at the forefront of many arguments in favor of immigration restrictions. Michael Walzer typifies this view:

The distinctiveness of culture and groups depends upon closure… At some level of political organization, something like the sovereign state must take shape and claim the authority to make its own admissions policy, to control and sometimes restrain the flow of immigrants.”3

Shelley Wilcox echoes this conclusion, writing that “citizens must be able to regulate immigration as necessary to protect their… culture.”4 So too does David Miller, who argues that “the public culture of [a people’s] country is something that people have an interest in controlling.”5

This hostility towards immigrant cultures appears to be at odds with the seemingly joyful embrace of foreign influences on the institution that is Christmas, both in Britain and the United States. After all, the Puritans who sailed on the Mayflower, often seen as the forefathers of modern America, disapproved of Christmas and it was even banned in New England. The holiday fell further out of favor after the Revolutionary War as it was associated both with the English and their German mercenaries. The occasion would not become fashionable until the mid-nineteenth century, as Catholic immigrant traditions diffused more widely.

One of the best known examples of this kind of cultural transfer is the Christmas tree, which was introduced to England by Queen Charlotte, of the Kingdom of Hanover, after she married King George III. The tradition was further popularized by Prince Albert, of the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, following his union with Queen Victoria. A picture of the family gathered around their decorated tree was published in the United States in 1850, and by 1870 the practice of placing fir trees indoors, adorned with candles, had become common on both sides of the Atlantic.

Santa Claus, another notable European import, brings untold joy to millions of children every year. He was, it is believed, a synthesis of Odin, the white-bearded Norse god called the ‘yule figure’, and the historical Greek bishop Saint Nicholas. These were merged to create a Dutch folk figure known as SinterKlaas. Author Washington Irving,  son of Scottish immigrants to New York, Anglicized SinterKlaas into ‘Santa Claus’ in his book A History of New York (1809) with the intention of satirizing the many Dutch émigrés living in New York City at the time. Much of the tradition that would become associated with this popular character was established in the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (1823), penned anonymously, many believe, by Clement Clarke Moore. He was said to have been inspired in his depiction by a local Dutch man. Meanwhile, Santa’s modern appearance was established by the German immigrant cartoonist Thomas Nast (contrary to the popular myth that his red, fur trimmed outfit was first portrayed in advertisements for Coca-Cola).

As Santa makes his way down chimneys across the globe, he is likely to find the mantelpieces in many homes brimming with greeting cards conveying merry wishes and notes of friendship. It was the Franco-Polish immigrant and printer Louis Prang who popularized this tradition. He brought the latest lithographic techniques from Europe which he used to manufacture greeting cards for export to England. By 1874 he was selling them domestically also, and they became so popular (and copied) that he is often dubbed “the father of the Christmas card.”

While these heartfelt messages may bring a measure of delight, it is the climax of the festive period that adults most anticipate (at least the ones who do not have to cook it): Christmas dinner. This is an occasion not only for a mouth-watering feast, but also a deeply social event, firmly centered on the family unit. Aside from its many regional variations that are themselves often drawn from immigrant communities, the orthodox meal is a particularly complex example of transatlantic cultural cross-pollination. Henry VIII is thought to have eaten the first Christmas turkey in the late sixteenth century, after navigator William Strickland brought the bird from the New World. It was not until the late nineteen hundreds that turkeys became affordable for those outside the upper classes in England, but they were plentiful in the American colonies and the royal fashion for holiday turkeys had spread there before the revolution. When Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, in which Scrooge upgrades Bob Cratchit from a lowly goose to a lofty turkey, it cemented the homely, gobbling bird as the principle centerpiece of the yuletide table in both nations.

These seasonal examples are but a few of the myriad traditions and wider cultural currency that we owe to foreigners. Our culture and traditions are not static, but constantly changing. Much of this evolution would occur even in an entirely insular society, but a great deal is also driven by outsiders, some of them immigrants. Far from being the threat that many opponents of open borders perceive, foreign cultures have enormously enriched our enjoyment of Christmas and, I believe, our lives more generally. These changes have not been forced upon us: The British royal family did not decree that Christmas trees be erected, nor did Charles Dickens order us to cook turkeys at this time of year. People do not adopt particular practices or snippets of folklore in this way because they must, but because they seem good to them. The wholehearted acceptance of foreign traditions at Christmas time, I think, is some evidence that we are not truly as antagonized, and certainly not as damaged, by alien cultures as we might often think. Is it a tragedy of the United State’s once-open borders that Americans no longer regard Christmas as degenerate merrymaking? Are our children the victims of German and Dutch cultural corruption as they await a visit from St. Nick? No.

I hope that this holiday season some of us will take a moment to consider how much drearier December might be if we had a more closed society as so many advocate, and how much richer it might be if we enjoyed greater openness.

1 Transatlantic Trends: Mobility, Migration, and Integration, 2014, p. 62

2 Ashcroft, Michael, Small Island, Public Opinion and the Politics of Immigration, 2013, p. 9

3 Walzer, Michael, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 1984, Ch. 2

4 Wilcox, Shelley, The Open Borders Debate on Immigration, Philosophy Compass Volume 4, Issue 1, 2009

5 Miller, David, in Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics, 2004, p. 200

Image credit: Christmas in America, discovered via Wikimedia Commons.