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I Want to Be Just Like You

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The immigration "debate", which routinely produces more heat than light, is contentious in part because it assumes foreign people entering the United States want to remain foreigners and not become Americans. Most recently the British prime minister decried "multiculturalism" because it was producing more or less permanent ghettos in the U.K.. American critics of Mexican immigrants often reflect the same opinion. And throughout our history as every wave of immigrants arrived here, there were always haters who sought to keep them in their place.

Experience, at least in the U.S., proves that immigrants don't want to be separate and will find a way to break out of a majority-imposed ghetto. Name a hyphenated-American group that has refused to integrate. Of course, different cultures, like different religions, seek to retain their identity. But it is a fundamental fact of human nature that young people want to fit in. They want to dress like, eat like, date like, and mostly of all sound like American kids. Even though none of us can change our skin color, it is amazing to look at and listen to kids of varying colors and nationalities who look like and sound like fifth generation American kids. We didn't become a melting pot by accident.

This powerful urge is called assimilation. Anyone over 50 finds it difficult. Everyone above the age of 5 finds it easy and important. Assimilation is very near the heart of the genius of America. People all over the world want to come here for a lot of reasons, most importantly economic opportunity. But they-and most of all their children-want to become Americans in every sense of the word. You don't do that by insisting on speaking your original language or dressing in strange clothing. Besides which, television and global marketing are making millions of people all over the world into something like Americans. Osama bin Laden hates this.

Whatever else the immigration debate -- one in a series of many throughout our history -- is about, it should not be about assimilation. Pick virtually any nationality group and bring them to the United States. It is an absolute guarantee that their children will be every bit as American as yours and mine

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