Sunday, May 8, 2011

Favoring Immigration if Not the Immigrant By Jason DePARLE


 Washington — So deeply has the phrase “a nation of immigrants” seeped into the American psyche that millions of people reflexively use it while few know who coined the phrase. (It was Senator John F. Kennedy, in a 1958 book by that name.)


                                                                Andrew Councill for The New York Times
Susan F. Martin has written a book about immigration models.


 Susan F. Martin, a historian at Georgetown University, embraces the term even as she warns that it hides more than it reveals. Her book — titled, yes, “A Nation of Immigrants” — argues that the United States historically has favored immigration more consistently than it has immigrants.
 Three competing models evolved in the original colonies, she writes, each with a different vision of what purposes newcomers would serve. Elements of each have persisted since.
 Virginia sought workers but found them in slaves.
 Massachusetts sought believers but punished dissent.
 Pennsylvania sought citizens, and built them from foreign stock (despite gripes from residents as cosmopolitan as Benjamin Franklin).
 Each model was pro-immigration, Ms. Martin argues, but not necessarily pro-immigrant.
 “They had very different ideas about what would happen after the immigrant entered the country,” she said in an interview.
 All three models have taken contemporary shape, not only in the United States but also across the globe, at a time when migration is a growing force and Ms. Martin one of its leading academic chroniclers. While her book is confined to American history, she said the armies of guest workers in Dubai reminded her of Virginia in its indentured servant phase, while the French campaign against Islamic headscarves had echoes of Salem.
 Ms. Martin champions the Pennsylvania model in her book, published this year by Cambridge University Press: political unity, cultural diversity and equal rights. But almost unwittingly her book shows how improbable and precarious that model is. It is utterly foreign to much of the world, where citizens are born, not made, she said, and threatened at home by the reliance on illegal workers who lack rights.
 “The Pennsylvania model is not dead, but it is under severe challenge,” she writes.
 Ms. Martin finds many to blame for this: the left (for opposing tough enforcement), the populist right (for strains of prejudice) and employers (for seeking cheap labor). “One of my concerns about illegal immigration is that it undermines legal immigration,” she said.
 Ms. Martin said her interest in immigration comes in part from her roots. Her father arrived in the United States in 1906, fleeing the persecution of Jews in a Polish shtetl called Milejcsicz. Ms. Martin visited there as a college student and discovered that all the Jews who stayed behind had died in the Holocaust.
 She trained as a colonial historian at the University of Pennsylvania and acquired policy credentials as a staff member of two high-level government commissions on immigration policy. For her first assignment she read the mail and found that all the major complaints — immigrants bring crime and disease, they refuse to learn English — were prominent in earlier debates.
 “There’s a tendency to say that our ancestors were the good immigrants, but there are problems with the contemporary ones,” she said.
 Ms. Martin’s mentor, Lawrence H. Fuchs, first identified the colonial archetypes in his 1990 book, “The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity and the Civic Culture.” But he saw the Pennsylvania model as historically dominant and politically secure. Ms. Martin (who has dedicated her book to him) sees a constant battle among the three models, and peril in the present.
 The Virginia model began with commercial motivations: Jamestown settlers sought plantations on the river, not cities on the hill. When the colony could not attract enough indentured servants to export tobacco, it imported slaves. Though chattel slavery has disappeared, Ms. Martin emphasizes that the exploitation of immigrant labor has not.
 “The high levels of tolerance for unauthorized migration represents a return to the Virginia model of disposable workers with few rights,” she writes.
 In Massachusetts the Puritans came to affirm their faith. Compatriots were welcomed but expected to believe, and dissidents like Roger Williams were banished. Ms. Martin finds the fear of alien views reappearing in episodes as old as the Alien and Sedition Acts and as recent as post-9/11 laws that increase the government’s power to detain foreigners. “The problem with Massachusetts isn’t those it includes but those it excludes and the basis on which it excludes them,” she said.
 William Penn arrived in the colonies six decades later, after being jailed in England for his Quaker beliefs. Like the Virginians he too wanted to make money — in his case by selling land — but sought out buyers far and wide, with translations of his pamphlets reaching the Rhine. Pluralism was part of his faith and part of his business plan.
 That is not to imply that harmony always reigned. A second tradition that traces back to Pennsylvania is the fear that non-English speaking immigrants will fail to assimilate. The “most ignorant Stupid sort,” Franklin called the Germans, upset at bilingual street signs.
 Historians may quibble that Ms. Martin’s model exaggerates the differences between colonies: Puritans sought profit too, and Virginians prayed. She readily acknowledges the overlaps. “There are elements of each model in each colony,” she said.
 In contemporary debate her views can be hard to categorize. She is less worried about how many immigrants come than about what rights they have. Like most in the high-immigration camp she favors a legalization plan for illegal immigrants, which opponents say will encourage more people to come. But like most in the low-immigration camp she is skeptical about guest worker plans, at home or abroad, seeing a slippery slope to exploitation.
 Certainly such programs have been abused. But millions of poor people across the globe find them preferable to poverty at home. Would Ms. Martin stand in those people’s way?
 Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a business group that supports guest worker programs, argues that Ms. Martin’s resistance to temporary visas would suppress immigration to the detriment of immigrants and the economy alike. “Not all labor market migration is exploitative,” she wrote in a recent issue of The New Republic.
 Ms. Martin, who directs Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, calls that criticism a “fair avenue for debate.” But she said she had traveled widely in Europe, where the descendants of 1960s guest workers have formed an alienated underclass. European colleagues often ask her how the United States has remained a “nation of immigrants and not just a collection of them.”
 Imagine the curious looks she gets when she starts talking about William Penn.

© 2011nytimes.com




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