The Newcomers

Clamor at the Gates: The New American Immigration.
by Nathan Glazer.
Institute for Contemporary Studies Press. 337 pp. $29.95.

Liberty on this planet being in shorter supply than oil, refugees and immigrants by the millions still seek haven elsewhere than in the land of their birth—above all, and in increasing numbers, in the United States, which FDR aptly called “the land of immigrants.” Although our nation once, in the Immigration Act of 1924, took draconian measures to deal with this “clamor at the gates,” in recent decades we have responded to it more by drift and evasion than by conscious principle.

Whom shall we welcome? According to which principles of morality, law, and administrative policy? And with what consequences? These are the questions that Nathan Glazer and his colleagues set out not so much to answer as to expose in their full complexity in the fourteen essays collected in this timely volume. The essays provide sufficient historical background, summaries of current arguments, and glimpses of probable futures to bring any curious reader up to a significant level of sophistication.

In his introduction, Glazer points out that the tiny quotas set for East European immigrants in 1924 were so unbendingly adhered to that after 1939 almost none of the hunted Jews of Europe could enter the U.S. Harry Truman's efforts in 1948 to exempt displaced persons resulted in a bill “that, unbelievably, discriminated against the Jewish survivors of the war and in favor of the ethnic Germans who had been expelled from Soviet Russia and the Baltic states.” These severe quotas stood firm in the subcomittee hearings of 1952, solidified in the startling judgment of the U.S. Senate: “Without giving credence to any theory of Nordic superiority, the subcommittee believes that the adoption of the national-origins formula was a rational and logical method of numerically restricting immigration in such a manner as to best preserve the sociological and cultural balance in the population of the United States” (emphasis added).

Soon, however, waves of refugees from Communism in Hungary (1956) and Cuba (1960), together with the U.S. civil-rights revolution of the early 1960's, changed the climate. The policy of favoring Northwestern European populations came to seem, Glazer writes, “basically immoral and wrong.” In new legislation passed during the Johnson era, all nations were treated alike. Every nation, regardless of size, was allowed 20,000 immigrants per year, except that a ceiling of 170,000 from the entire Asian hemisphere was imposed. Even at that, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy testified in 1964 that he actually expected no more than 5,000 immigrants from all of Asia during the first year of the new regulations, and fewer after that.

In this, Kennedy was proved dramatically wrong. As economic conditions steadily improved in Western Europe, fewer West Europeans arrived than the legislation allowed for. During the 1970's, by contrast, the total number of Asians in the U.S. doubled to three-and-a-half million; the figure now seems to be doubling again during the 1980's. The largest number of all, however, have come from Mexico, joined by immigrants from elsewhere in Latin America. And the floods of refugees from worldwide Communism have continued to increase.


In 1978, the Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh was made chairman of a Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. The executive staff director of this commission was Lawrence H. Fuchs of Brandeis, who opens this volume with a brilliant short account of his own seasoned views, which he concisely summarizes as “pro-immigration and anti-illegal immigration”:

I would open the front door more widely and strengthen both the definition of family and independent immigrants; make much more explicit what must be done to close the back door; and take greater care to protect the rights of aliens in the processes of admission, exclusion, and deportation. At the same time I would strengthen and upgrade the Immigration and Naturalization Service and provide for much more coherent and prestigious oversight of our immigration policy through the Immigration Advisory Council and an . . . independent immigration court appointed by the President of the United States. Finally, I would recognize that no nation should try to deal with the issue of international migration by itself. I would take several initiatives to strengthen international arrangements to manage the problems that accrue as a result of transnational migration, and to inhibit the flows that cause those problems, remembering always that immigration is not just a source of problems but also of creativity and strength, especially in the United States.

In the next three essays, Harris N. Miller recounts the history of the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, which enacts some of the Hesburgh Commission's recommendations; Edwin Harwood discusses the ticklish and outsized problems involved in enforcing immigration law; and Rodolfo O. de la Garza discusses Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants in the light of immigration reform. There follow three essays on the effects of immigration on the U.S. economy, and contributions by Peter I. Rose and Peter Skerry on, respectively, Asian American and Mexican American politics. Turning toward the future, Michael S. Teitelbaum explores the need for a new approach to international norms for dealing with the tragedy of mass expulsions, and Peter H. Schuck argues for a new definition of national community.


About 600,000 immigrants now enter our gates each year. Being an American is a “desirable privilege,” Glazer writes in his concluding essay, “one in short supply when compared with those who want it.” Yet we as a nation seem to lack the self-confidence to regulate the granting of this privilege. We easily recognize special obligations to reunite families, to accept political refugees, to “make a modest bow to persons with occupations in short supply,” and even to welcome those with special gifts of discipline, vitality, and enterprise. But what about the forced expulsion of criminals and the mentally disordered, such as those Castro drove to the U.S.? What about our obligations to the legions of the world's unfortunate? If we open the gates, will our “quality of life” suffer—or, to the contrary, be enhanced? And what if the new immigrants do better here than our “traditional” minorities; will their success breed severe social conflict?

Evidence on these questions is mixed, and our powers of prediction are notoriously weak. Nonetheless, one comes away from this volume with certain strengthened convictions. One is that respect for law will suffer if immigration law is perceived as unprincipled and if its enforcement remains as ineffective as it now demonstrably is. A second is that in this field “laissez-faire” is not good enough. Both on the international level and on the national level, responsible government officials must arrive at just principles and effective systems of enforcement, lest grievances continue to multiply. As this careful, responsible, and generous-minded volume reminds us, we may not yet have all the answers, but we have a lot to worry about.

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