Tag Archives: Coming Apart

The “Melting Pot”

Wikipedia’s article on the “melting pot” is interesting. Here’s a quote from J. Hector St. John de Crevecour:

“…whence came all these people? They are a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes… What, then, is the American, this new man? He is neither a European nor the descendant of a European; hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. . . . The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared.”− J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer.

And from a magazine article in 1875:

The fusing process goes on as in a blast-furnace; one generation, a single year even– transforms the English, the German, the Irish emigrant into an American. Uniform institutions, ideas, language, the influence of the majority, bring us soon to a similar complexion; the individuality of the immigrant, almost even his traits of race and religion, fuse down in the democratic alembic like chips of brass thrown into the melting pot.”[1]

And Henry James:

“Understand that America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your fifty groups, your fifty languages, and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won’t be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to – these are fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians—into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.”[3]

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Is Immigration the Best Way to Fight Crime?

I just came across this report from the Immigration Policy Center in 2008.

Numerous studies by independent researchers and government commissions over the past 100 years repeatedly and consistently have found that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the nativeborn. In the early decades of the 20th century, during the previous era of large-scale immigration, various federal commissions found lower levels of crime among the foreign-born than the native-born. More recently, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform reached a similar conclusion in a 1994 report, as have academic researchers using data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 Census; the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health; and the results of community studies in Chicago, San Diego, El Paso, and Miami.

The problem of crime in the United States is not “caused” or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. This is hardly surprising since immigrants come to the United States to pursue economic and educational opportunities not available in their home countries and to build better lives for themselves and their families. As a result, they have little to gain and much to lose by breaking the law. Undocumented immigrants in particular have even more reason to not run afoul of the law given the risk of deportation that their lack of legal status entails.


In 2000, among men age 18-39 (who comprise the vast majority of the U.S. prison population), the incarceration rate for the native-born (3.5%) was five times higher than the rate for immigrants (0.7%).


In stereotyping immigrants as criminals, some anti-immigrant activists have pointed to estimates by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that one quarter of all federal prisoners in the United States are “criminal aliens.”

However, these estimates are highly misleading for two reasons:

Only about 8% of the 2.2 million persons behind bars in the United States at the end of 2005 were in federal prisons. The majority of inmates are in state prisons (57%) or local jails (34%).

Undocumented immigrants are likely to be transferred into the much smaller federal prison system simply on the basis of their immigration status even if they have not committed a criminal offense, or have committed an offense that is relatively minor.

I still think that completely open borders probably would cause a spike in crime. Immigration => poverty => crime is the chain of causation in my mind. That’s one of the only arguments against open borders that’s at all creditable, even if there’s no real evidence for it; crude theories are sometimes right, and sometimes the best guides we have to guess the effects of policies that step well outside the range of experience. I still support open borders, of course, but I think crime risks are a good reason to open the borders carefully and in a somewhat gradual manner. But we should always bear in mind that nothing remotely like an immigration-induced crime wave has actually happened. On the contrary, immigrants are more law-abiding than natives. The easiest way to keep crime down is probably to let in a few more of these law-abiding foreigners to restrain unruly natives.

UPDATE: I had planned to make this a simple “utility” post with a link to an interesting study, but I’m afraid I added more verbiage than I planned, and may have caused confusion. The last statement “let in a few more of these law-abiding foreigners to restrain unruly natives” may have come across as flippant. It actually conflates an obvious point with a more subtle, speculative point. The obvious point is that if immigrants have lower crime rates than natives, they’ll bring down average crime rates even if they don’t affect crime rates among natives. In that case, though, one couldn’t say except as a joke that they were “restraining unruly natives.” Continue reading “Is Immigration the Best Way to Fight Crime?” »

Charles Murray and Immigration

Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart says nothing about immigration, per se. Rather, it is about “the state of white America,” and in particular, about the separation of a new cognitive elite (“Belmont”) from a new underclass (“Fishtown”) with falling rates of male labor participation, high rates of out-of-wedlock births and single mothers, high rates of imprisonment, low rates of church attendance, and so forth. Murray alleges, with statistics to back up his story (though he has to fill in a lot of gaps with anecdote, speculation, and appeals to readers’ experience) a “segregation of the successful,” as smart people whom the university system has become increasingly efficient at discovering and bonding with each other sort themselves out and largely stop interacting with their under-achieving high school fellows or cousins.

The more homogeneous white America of 1963 that Murray looks back to with a certain degree of seeming nostalgia was the product of 1920s nativism, the New Deal, World War II, and in general, a couple of decades when collectivism had more influence in America than at any other time. In spite of his seeming nostalgia, Murray insists that he wouldn’t really want to go back to 1963: the “coming apart” that has taken place since then, however troubling, is a price worth paying for the innovation and variety that has been unleashed. I agree. Conformist egalitarianism is rather boring, stifling, stultifying. That was what the 1960s youth thought, more or less. That’s why they rebelled, for better and worse.

Here’s how Murray’s book connects to immigration. Nativists seem to want to reconstruct a lost national unity, or preserve what’s left of national unity, by excluding foreigners. Murray shows that national unity is unraveling without any help from foreigners. It’s unraveling at a time when the borders are far from open. It’s unraveling even among whites. It’s unraveling because people are different, and sort themselves out.

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