A Naturalization Ceremony

September 27, 2004 | 36 comments

I stepped down the hall to a naturalization ceremony. It was a moving affair, a lot like a baptism in many ways.

The soon-to-be citizens and their families were mostly in their Sunday clothes. This being Portland, many were Asians. There was also a man from Africa, a middle-aged Irish gentleman with a an American flag pin on the lapel of his tweed coat, a white-haired old lady who was maybe a Slav, a robed Muslim matriarch with daughters in (modest) skirts, and many others. Everyone was a little nervous and a little reverent and a little excited and very much being shepherded around, and afterwards there were refreshments . Hence the baptismal air.

When I came to think of it, though, I saw the naturalization ceremony was more like a marriage than a baptism. Baptism has about it the air of inevitability. Through this gate and no other you enter the kingdom. Christ alone is the father of this rebirth–you have no option–and we, having been born of him too, are inevitably your brothers and sisters, will you or no. Marriage is different. A man chooses a wife as he wishes and she accepts him or another at her pleasure. There is nothing inevitable about marriage at all. Just so a naturalization.

Like marriage, I saw that the naturalization had in it something holy–God, I thought, must approve of people choosing to enter more fully into a community and a country. Like marriage, I didn’t see that any one country, even this America of ours, was the inevitable choice. These people chose us. They could have chosen others. As the immigrants became citizens, I was honored and moved. It was a relationship with me and my people they had entered in.

36 Responses to A Naturalization Ceremony

  1. danithew on September 27, 2004 at 4:04 pm

    I recently gave a talk in church about “being a loyal citizen” and talked about two people who basically went through a personal naturalization process where they determined for themselves what people they belonged to. I spoke about Moses and how in the moment he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave, he determined his own citizenship (since he could have chosen between being an Egyptian or a Hebrew). My other example was (of course) Ruth who went from being a Moabitess to being a Hebrew, simply by stating her deeply-felt allegiance to her mother-in-law, her mother-in-laws place of living, her mother-in-laws religion, etc. If the scriptures are accurate, sometimes naturalization and conversion really do seem to happen at the same time .. so I enjoyed your comparison of naturalization and baptism. Thanks Adam.

  2. Nate Oman on September 27, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    Another interesting thing about naturalization ceremonies is the prominance of oaths. One does not simply have a legal status confered on one, but one must affirmatively promise loyalty and obedience to the laws.

    It would be nice if some of the anti-immigrant-no-nothings talked with some of the folks at a naturalization ceremony some time. I for one look at the Koreans who run all of the small businesses in the suburb where I live or the Peruvians who run the BBQ chicken place where I like to have lunch, I find the idea that immigrants are coming to this country to live off of the largess of our welfare system laughable and offensive.

  3. Ryan Bell on September 27, 2004 at 4:28 pm

    I’m guessing that both Adam and Nate attended these naturalization ceremonies in some connection with the courts where they work(ed). During my just-finished clerkship, I also attended a naturalization ceremony, and was surprised to see how enthusiastically the inductees adopted American values and patriotism and even primacy. From what I could tell from the speeches made by a few (making my ceremony more like a testimony meeting than a wedding or baptism), there was no one in the room that was just cynically hoping to take advantage of this country’s riches without giving back to it with a real sense of pride. I agree with Adam and Nate– it’s a very moving affair.

  4. Bryce I on September 27, 2004 at 4:28 pm

    Adam –

    I think that convert baptism is actually a more apt metaphor. The act of baptism is the making of an individual covenant between the convert and Heavenly Father, which also (along with the associated ordinance of confirmation) has the effect of joining the individual to a group. Marriage is a three-way covenant which ultimately has little to do with the group, at least in LDS temple marriages — other marriages are very much a social contract, but the intimacy of the temple sealing rooms indicates to me that the relationship of the married couple to the body of the church is very much a secondary concern in temple marriages — I reserve the right to change my mind on this later as I think about it.

    Naturalization differs from both marriage and baptism in that not every person need go through the process (unless one takes American citizenship to be essential to eternal progression). Most people are born citizens of some state. Relatively few of them obtain that citizenship via some conscious decision.

    Nonetheless, I agree with the overall sentiment of your post. One of my colleagues at school was naturalized last year, and it was interesting to observe the process, although I did not attend the actual ceremony. Thinking back on it, I can say that my perception of my relationship to him changed after he was naturalized, although I can’t quite put my finger on what or why.


    Are you going to post that talk anywhere? It sounds really interesting.

  5. danithew on September 27, 2004 at 4:49 pm

    Yo Bryce …

    I’ll try and post that talk at my blog at some point. I’m trying to get a paper done and have been suddenly engulfed by school/church/family responsibilities of late so I haven’t been blogging as much. Maybe in the next day or so. The talk revolves around five scriptural references if I’m remembering right … heck it’s been a two weeks since already. :)

  6. Adam Greenwood on September 27, 2004 at 5:08 pm

    Just for the record, Nate O., I would probably qualify as an anti-immigrant no[sic]-nothing. It’s just that, though (1) I think open borders are a bad idea and (2) even our current level of immigration unwise over the long haul and (3) assimilation disastrously underemphasized in contemporary America, I have a soft spot in my heart for immigrants, especially for ones who are becoming citizens.

  7. Nate Oman on September 27, 2004 at 5:19 pm

    Just for the record: I think that forcing millions of de facto immigrants into the grey sector because of their illegal status is bad economics and wantonly unfair. I think that high levels of immigration are inevitable unless one is willing to countenance what I think are unconscionable levels of government coercion both at the borders and within the nation as part of an anti-immigrant hunt. I also think that by and large, the country is much the better for immigration. I also have no problem with emphasizing the virtues of assimilation. On the other hand, I think that the economic incentives for something like learning English are much stronger than both anti-immigrant activists and diversity worriers realize. For crying out loud, these are motivated people coming to our country at great sacrifice (and often great personal risk) in order to have marginally higher levels of opprotunity for themselves and their families. What is not to like?

    Also, immigration is the best thing that can happen to any community’s choice of restuarants!

  8. David on September 27, 2004 at 5:29 pm

    One of the few issues with which I agree with the Wall Street Journal is its pro-immigration stand. It is also one of the few issues with which I largely agree with our current president, and I am sorry the anti-immigration wing of the party has put the kibosh on his proposals.

  9. Jonathan Green on September 27, 2004 at 5:30 pm

    I will not fight you about immigration policy, Adam. Your thoughts betray you. I feel the good in you…the conflict.

  10. Adam Greenwood on September 27, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    Put me on record as favoring unconscionable levels of government coercion both at the borders and within the nation, then. :)

  11. Grasshopper on September 27, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    As the son of a German-born naturalized American citizen, I’m with Nate on this one.

  12. danithew on September 27, 2004 at 5:42 pm

    Way back in the mission days when I was in Esquipulas Guatemala (right on the borders of Honduras and El Salvador), I used to run daily into people who were prepared to make their run for the border. I remember sitting next to one on the bus and he showed me the money he had rolled up in his sock to get him through his journey.

    Many of these people have the simplest dreams. I heard one man from Honduras say that all he wanted was a car. I asked him what kind of car. The kind of car that has four wheels and a steering wheel, he said. All that mattered to him was that he could turn a key in the ignition and hear it start up.

  13. Russell Arben Fox on September 27, 2004 at 5:45 pm

    Nate, what then would you consider to be “conscionable” levels of government coercion (at the borders and within the nation)?

  14. greenfrog on September 27, 2004 at 5:55 pm

    Of all the people I met and baptized on my mission in California, I’d guess that no more than 5% of them had documentation that authorized them to be in the country.

    Now few missionaries are likely to wind up hating the people they’re called to serve, but, IMO, our country is much the better for their presence.

  15. Bryce I on September 27, 2004 at 6:08 pm

    In response to no one in particular:

    The crank in me feels compelled to ask,

    And just why shouldn’t a naturalized citizen of the United States be allowed to be elected President?

  16. Nate Oman on September 27, 2004 at 6:08 pm

    For a starter, I think that any system that depends for its viability on the authority to hold people for long periods of time without the benefit of a hearing before a neutral tribunal is a problem. I think that a person held by the INS ought to be able to get a hearing within a reasonable time before a magistrate that doesn’t work for the INS. Furthermore, I think that deportation proceedings at the very least should be subject to review by magistrates who don’t work for the deportation bureacracy.

    As it now stands, INS deportation decisions are subject to laughably mild levels of judicial review. In other words, once the INS decides to send someone back to their country, the chances that a neutral tribunal will have the authority to reverse the INS are virtually zero. Last year I worked on a case in which a Guatemalan woman had her husband, uncle, and son murdered by insurgents. She herself was gang raped and threatened with death for refusing to co-operate with them. The truth of these allegations was essentially admitted by the government. The INS, however, decided that she had to return to her country. Notice, that the decision in this case was made by an official who was part of the same agency that was trying to send her back to her own Guatamala. By the time her case came before a neutral magistrate (in this case the federal district court) there was essentially nothing that court could do. The same for the court of appeals. So the nice men from the INS came with their guns and carted her back to the country where her rapists and the murderers of her family lived. Amnesty International and other groups had recorded instances of revenge killings by former insurgents despite the end of hostilities. The State Department had taken a more optimistic view (btw, the State Department ALWAYS takes a more optimistic view than human rights organizations about the level of violence in any given country), and that, alas, is all that the law requires.

    I intensely, intensely disliked being part of the government that did that to this woman. I worked on one or two other stomach-turning INS cases. From my point of view, we have set up a system that is thoroughly unfair to immigrants.

  17. cooper on September 27, 2004 at 6:18 pm

    I manage, on a daily basis, the undocumented masses. Laws are in place that don’t allow me to question their documents. It is unfortunate that we have a developed “program” not only to exploit, but to also ensure, that this policy/program continues. They pay taxes and social security into a system from which they (if they continue as undocs) will not benefit. These people in the middle of this conflict are by-in-large good hard-working individuals. Some, not many, have paticipated in the naturalization process. It is the most jubilent of individual who can stand tall and announce that they are now here, as citizens, and they will never turn their back on this country. It is an amazing thing to witness and is celebrated as a holiday in my plant. Don’t get me wrong, not all my employees are illegal, but there are those that understand how the system works and are willing to work hard for minimum wage year in and year out just to stay here and not go back to their country of origin.

    I always say if you want to complain about the system we’ve created, just don’t do it with a mouth full of salad.

  18. Rob on September 27, 2004 at 6:30 pm

    So far I’ve heard some stirring testimonies…but little that could really hold up if this were a real debate about immigration issues (though Nate’s experiences just posted do offer what might be a useful beginning to a discussion about reform of the political asylum/deportation procedures).. So, before I launch forth, is this a testimony meeting/religious meeting type post or an invitation to a real debate? Wouldn’t want to spoil anything or hijack a thread if this is just another excuse for feeling warm and fuzzy. On the other hand, if anyone really wants to hash these issues out…I’m game.

    However, along those lines, should this be a real debate, is anyone on here willing to actually go read some additional online sources of information about immigration, or is everyone already pretty much committed to reaffirming their testimony?

    Jeremobi (getting a government PhD looking at immigration issues), if you’re out there today, this one’s an open invitation…

  19. Nate Oman on September 27, 2004 at 6:43 pm

    Rob: What would hold up exactly?

    BTW, while I found the treatment of asylum cases the most disturbing (in one case in our circuit of which I am aware the INS took the position that the threat of being sent to a Chinese forced labor camp because of one’s political beliefs did not constitute a well-founded fear of future persecution), I also think that it is unfair that huge portions of our economy are dependent on immigrant labor, but the constant threat of deportation deprives those immigrants of a meaningful chance to assert legal rights. (Like breach of contract or workers’ comp, to say nothing of more exotic benefits like social security payments.)

    (Although in fairness, I must add that there is a credible economic argument that illegals can opt out of various government payment requirements — e.g. social security — and hence command slightly higher wages than they could if they were legals. Of course, it is difficult to figure out if real bargaining is occuring here since it is impossible for illegals to opt in!)

  20. Mark B on September 27, 2004 at 8:51 pm

    Since a large part of my practice consists of representing aliens before both the BCIS (The INS is dead! Long live the INS!) and the Immigration Court, I get to see firsthand almost daily the labyrinthine mess our immigration laws have created. (Of course, if it weren’t no complicated, I may not be able to earn a living, and I’m by no means a disinterested observer.)

    The first and too often forgotten most important fact is that “we have built it, and they have [and will] come”. After building the richest and most open, free nation in the history of the world, can we really expect people not to come? We may as well, like King Canute, try to command the tides.

    As long as Mexico or the Philippines, for example, continue to have economies that don’t provide realistic opportunities to their people, and China continues to repress its people (especially through enforcement of its “one child” policy), there will be millions who want to come here. And, as Adam suggests, the only way to stop them would be to ratchet up the coercive mechanisms–ICE (Immigration and Customs enforcement, one of the more sinister government acronyms in recent memory–only CREEP, Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, comes close, and that wasn’t really the government) or though a proposed statute called the CLEAR act, which would enlist local law enforcement to arrest undocumented aliens–to a level that I would hope most of us would find unconfortable. (If you find it comfortable, you have just won a year in Tom Tancredo’s guest house.)

    A second factor that too many, including Mr. Tancredo, seem to have forgotten is that not all that long ago our fathers and mothers came across a border into this land, and the opportunities we have here are simply a combination of their choice (enabled, at least for my ancestors, by a liberal immigration policy) and our good fortune. That I am here and some poor Mexican is in a slum in Tijuana is hardly a neutral principle upon which to build an immigation policy that says I get to stay here and he can’t come.

    Third, let’s remember the old distinction that Nixon loved so well (too bad most of you seem to be too young to remember the good old days of Tricky Dick!) between malum in se and malum prohibitum. There is nothing morally wrong in entering the United States without documents, or in overstaying one’s visa. If it were a moral wrong, I suppose that the Spanish language wards and branches in the United States would have to shut down for lack of anyone worthy to accept a calling or take the sacrament.

    Prof. Posner would have encouraged us to look at this in economic terms (what else?–there wasn’t anything that he wouldn’t have encouraged us to think of that way). The demand for the good American life is much, much greater than the supply of available places at our table. We can either hire a whole army of jack-booted thugs (I was hoping I could work that line in) to try to keep wannabes away from the limited supply, or we can work with other nations to try to reduce demand.

  21. Bryce I on September 27, 2004 at 9:52 pm

    I was wondering when Mark B. was going to show up in this thread. Thanks for your post. Well put, and liberally sprinkled with parenthetical asides (a style of writing which I employ often myself).

  22. greenfrog on September 27, 2004 at 11:38 pm

    Mark B,

    Wouldn’t Judge Posner also acknowledge that the current US lifestyle is, in essence, monopoly rents being extracted by a cartel via construction and enforcement of (in this case, literal) artificial barriers to entry? The policy is no more justifiable than requiring lawyers to graduate from accredited law schools before permitting them to take the bar exam (which is, in itself, an artifical barrier to entering the practice of law).

    The essential function of such a constraint is to enable a small group to maintain an artificially low level of supply to enable them to reap an artificially high value on the goods they supply — in this instance, to the job market. The artificially high prices required by the US job market have created a market to outsource jobs overseas because of the same disparity in income.

    Upon what principle of justice can we maintain the effects of our cartel, which are to enrich US residents at the expense of the rest of the world?

  23. Bob Caswell on September 27, 2004 at 11:45 pm

    Having a mother who escaped her home country under communism (with my grandfather having had a price on his head if he were ever to return) and now having a wife not of this country makes my take at least slightly lean toward… guess!

  24. jeremobi on September 28, 2004 at 3:51 am

    “Upon what principle of justice can we maintain the effects of our cartel, which are to enrich US residents at the expense of the rest of the world?�

    Gee, take your pick…

    But we’ll need to dispose of the fascination with free market ideology as it won’t get us out of the textbook. Migration policy is about a whole lot more than labor markets. The Swiss guest worker program ran into trouble because they forgot that (“we wanted workers, but we ended up with peopleâ€?).

    The U.S. will inevitably continue to attract more immigrants than the country is willing to admit and any real discussion of immigration must involve some clearly stated assumptions about what is in the national interest.

    The current patchwork of policies benefit some Americans—the newly arrived immigrants as well as those who employ and use the services immigrants provide—at the expense of others, namely those Americans who happen to have skills that compete directly with those immigrants.

    No serious immigration scholar disputes an increase in real immigration or the drop in the relative skills of immigrants who entered the country in recent decades. And the economic-minded accept that a large increase in the supply of workers lowers wages and reduces inflationary pressure. This coupling should raise some eyebrows.

    All the empirical evidence since about 1980 suggests that the immigration-driven, disproportionate increase in the number of workers at the bottom end of the skill distribution probably caused the substantial decline in the relative wage of Americans with a high school education or less—that is, the economically weakest members of our society. In other words, immigration seems to have been an important contributor to the rise in income inequality, depressing the wages and economic opportunities of the least skilled workers.

    More troublesome for some might be the fact that the current mix of migrants also induces a substantial redistribution of wealth, away from workers who compete with immigrants and toward employers and other uses of immigrant services. Workers lose because immigrants drag wages down, employers gain because immigrants drag wages down. THIS IS ONE BIG INCOME REDISTRIBUTION PROGRAM.

    Hence, the debate is not over whether immigration increases the size of the economic pie, but is essentially a debate over how the pie is split. Trade-offs are a political reality: there will be winners and their will be losers. Before we decide to lockdown the border or open the floodgates, shouldn’t the country have an honest debate about which groups of Americans should be the winners and which should be the losers?

    {And if diversity is the goal, mass immigration is hardly the best way to achieve it. Our current immigration stream is much, much less diverse than even twenty years ago. Why not ensure a quota of more culturally exotic migrants, say Rwandan peasants rather than Mexican meatpackers?}

    I, too, enjoy many of the externalities generated by immigration—new ideas, new products, and especially the improvement of American cuisine. But these benefits are quite understandably offset in the eyes of many by increased congestion, environmental degradation (immigration is the key variable in controlling urban sprawl), and social transaction costs, including a higher potential for ethnic conflict. Immigrants tend to cluster in a small number of cities and just a handful of states (off the top of my head, I think the late 1990s numbers were something in the order of 75% of all immigrants living in only 5-6 states). By most accounts ethnic ghettos incubate ethnic differences and slow down integration.

    Ever been in a stake that tried to break up and integrate a Spanish language branch? What a nightmare!

    Moreover, there is little doubt that immigrants are making increased use of public assistance programs. Nearly 25% of immigrant households receive some type of welfare assistance. Compare that with about 15% of native households. Whose welfare are we trying to improve—the migrants, the natives, those who remain behind in source countries, or some combination?

    If the goal of immigration policy were to ensure that immigration did not place a fiscal burden on the native population, then steps should be taken to restrict the entry of potential welfare recipients. Even if the goal of policy is to help the poorest persons in the world, we can’t easily dismiss the cost to both taxpayers and native labor.

    I’m sure those who easily link immigration with foreign humanitarian concerns are sincere, but it’s hard to buy their caring for their fellow beings as a full explanation for their position. There are a host of evils to engage our compassion—wars, torture, loss of biodiversity, consumerism and waste, domestic violence, malnutrition. So why use immigration to advance humanitarianism, rather than foreign aid, or family planning, or conservation, or support for peace? Why link support for immigration so automatically with anti-racism? Is it better to send aid to poor countries where it may benefit a large number of people, or is it better to bring a smaller number of people from poor countries to the U.S. to participate in the local version of the consumer society? Does the chance of emigration divert many of a poor country’s most able people from the task of solving their nation’s problems to the task of struggling to escape from these problems? Does it influence dictators when they decide to expel unpopular minorities?

    Again, if the aim is to maximize humanitarianism how are the fortunate few to be selected? By the chance circumstance of having a relative here already, by being more highly skilled than their fellow applicants, or by having the money to pay the fare? By being more persecuted or more poverty-stricken than the rest?

    When is it just to favor some persons over others? Is it fair to deny some persons the opportunity to join the American dream? Is it right to make some natives (the weakest members of society under the current scheme) pay for the benefits that immigration imparts to other natives? I have to wonder if the costs of “altruism� are unfairly distributed within the American population and if the relatively poor in this country pay a disproportionate share of the cost for the conscience of the rich.

    I’m hard pressed to think of a single public policy problem this country now faces that is made any easier to manage with double the current population.

    The anecdotes such as those shared by Nate above are troubling. As he points out, the ability to determine a “well founded fear� is an awesome chore. To challenge what is widely regarded as our most incompetent and under funded agency with that task is tragic. I’d be all for an increased refugee and asylum policy, but we would need to severly restrict the extended family reunion policy under which most legal migrants arrive in country.

  25. Nate Oman on September 28, 2004 at 8:25 am


    Excellent comments. A couple of replies and questions:

    1. I agree that immigration has a disproportionate impact of those at the bottom of the labor market. However, I am not so certain that immigration is quite the zero-sum distributive game that you make it out to be. It does not seem unreasonable to suppose that reduced inflation has positive macroeconomic effects. If it is valid to think about how immigration divides the pie, this hardly seems like a reason for ignoring the question of how immigration effects the size of the pie.

    2. There is a perverse side to the distributive argument, since the winners under immigration are not only the nasty-rich employers but the immigrants themselves. Hence, restrictions on immigration also serve to distribute wealth away from poor immigrants and toward slighly less poor natives. If our concern is really about distributive justice, doesn’t it make more sense to redistribute wealth from those at the top rather than from those at the bottom? The argument is further boulstered by the fact that given very minimal and reasonable economic assumptions (ie upwardly sloping supply curves, downwardly sloping demand curves) redistributive schemes that rely on restricting the scope of contract (ie making it illegal for immigrants to contract with employers) will always lead to a deadweight loss vis-a-vis taxing and redistribution strategies.

    3. A related point has to do with welfare benefits. Even if immigrants recieve public assitance (how is this defined exactly?) at rates higher than the rest of the population, it does not follow that they are a net takers from the public fisc given that they also pay taxes. Furthermore, do these numbers control for socio-economic status? Do immigrants recieve public assistance at levels higher than natives of comporable socio-economic status? It seems that we must answer this question before we can conclude that immigrants as a group are public-assitance seekers.

    4. “I’m sure those who easily link immigration with foreign humanitarian concerns are sincere, but it’s hard to buy their caring for their fellow beings as a full explanation for their position.” The same could be said of anti-immigration activists. Surely their fears about the effects of immigration are sincere, but it is not unreasonable to suppose that this doesn’t work as a full explanation. Why not spend more money on educating low skill Americans rather than on chasing Mexican immigrants? Why not increase the chances of internal change in other countries by reducing the risks of dissent by offering meaningful asylum protection? Why give aid and comfort to domestic politicians who play the demogogue on immigration?

    5. I think that you are underestimating the extent to which substance drives procedure in immigration law. If you have rising tides of immigration coupled with a policy of aggressive exclusion, I am doubtful that it will be logisitically possible to provide immigrants with anything approaching what I would consider to be minimal due process. Perhaps the INS really is the worst funded and most incompetent agency in the federal government. Those are awards that many federal agencies compete for. However, I am skeptical that kicking a bit more money into the process is likely to result in appreciably fairer treatment of immigrants. In short, I suspect that fair procedures for immigrants cannot be logisitically reconciled with a policy of aggressive exclusion. As it now stands, this is a trade off that our country seems more than willing to make. On the other hand, I can’t help thinking that the widespread tolerance among the population at large for the often shameful treatment of immigrants by our government stems at least in part from the fact that most immigrants are — in the eyes of the majority of voters — simply “wetbacks.”

  26. greenfrog on September 28, 2004 at 11:02 am

    Jeremobi suggested I take my pick…

    …but his grocery store’s shelves were bare.

    So I’m back trying to derive what nutrution I can from my question, rather than from Jeremobi’s missing answers:

    Upon what principled basis can we justify maintaining an artificially high standard of living when doing so occurs at the expense of those outside the borders of our country?

    Are we justified in protecting the monopoly rents we extract through our immigration practices? Is OPEC? Is it ok to do so long as you can get away with it?

  27. LoneWriter on September 28, 2004 at 11:36 am

    Jeremobi asks: Ever been in a stake that tried to break up and integrate a Spanish language branch? What a nightmare!

    Actually, our ward is bilingual, and does very well. We have Sacrament services translated into Spanish by the Spanish-speaking missionaries. They also translate Relief Society lessons. We have a Spanish-speaking Sunday School class. Our bishop and Relief Society President are bilingual, and we have enough other bilingual ward members that it isn’t hard to find a translator. We also teach English as a Second Language classes two days a week.

    Three years ago, the first Spanish-speaking couple was baptized in our ward (after 18 months of no baptisms!). So far this year, we have had over twenty baptisms, about half Spanish-speaking. We have two sets of missionaries assigned to our ward.

    As to immigration — until about 50 years ago, there was nearly unlimited immigration allowed in America. The current limits, for the most part, came about after World War II. Most Americans today have an immigrant ancestor within 4 generations.

  28. Mark B on September 28, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    Our recent district conference showed one way to attempt the bilingual church. Some speakers spoke in Spanish, which sequential translation. Some spoke in English, with simultaneous translation. Some hymns were sung in English, by all (or at least, the encouragement was for all to sing), others in Spanish, by all. Most of the speakers, including the deaf sister who gave her talk in ASL, spoke a few words, usually a testimony, in the “other” language. I think it worked–but there’s much to be done yet.

    Lone is off by over a half century in the timing of the implementation of serious restrictions on immigration into the U.S. By 1875 statutes provided for the exclusion of convicts and prostitutes. The Chinese Exclusion Act was adopted in 1882 (and not repealed for over 60 years). An 1891 statute provided for the excludability of polygamists–wonder where that came from?? By the way, that law is still apparently in force–the application for permanent residence in use today includes the question “Do you plan to practice polygamy in the United States?”

    Then in 1917 Congress excluded all Asians (“Orientals” in the statutory language) except Japanese. Then in 1921 the first nationality-based quota system was established, and was in effect until 1952.

    So, we’ve been in the business of shutting the gates behind us for over a century.

    Just one note on Jeremobi’s lengthy comment: He said “immigration is the key variable in controlling urban sprawl”. Oh, come on! If most of them are clustered in 5 or 6 states, how on earth can they be responsible for New York City, and Los Angeles and Atlanta and Minneapolis and Dallas and Provo-Orem and the Californication of Oregon and on and on and on.

  29. Bryce I on September 28, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    Mark B. writes:

    the Californication of Oregon

    What an unpleasant mental image. I mean, Californization is bad enough. There should be an amendment.

  30. Rob on September 28, 2004 at 5:50 pm

    No, Californication is the correct term…take it from a native Oregonian!

    As for Mark B disputing Jermobi’s claim that immigration is the key variable in explaining urban sprawl…the facts are here

    While it is true that for some urban areas, immigration from other states may be the most important variable, when you take the nation as a whole, foreign immigration is the most important variable.

    For more on foreign born immigration to Utah during the 1990s, check here

    For data on the cost of immigration and migration to Utah, see here

    And remember, for a state, population increase comes from both net migration and net natural increase. For Utah, as most states, the Hispanic population is growing because of in migration, but also because it has much higher birth rates.

    A couple years ago there was an interesting news story on Mexican immigration to Utah.

    And how much of the Californication of Utah is due to flight from a Hispanicizing southern California? According to the US Census, California was the biggest source of migrants to Utah (60,389)–More Utahns left for California than any other state during the same period (31,843).

    We’d have to dig deeper to see about the push factors–including overcrowding by Mexican or Asian immigrants–sending those Californicators to Utah. In all honesty it might not be much, and I’m not sure how you would measure it. One interesting paper suggests that most out-migrants from California are retired people originally from out of state who are reuniting with family members elsewhere. Other studies implicate poor unemployment numbers in the early 90s for net out-migration from California during that decade.

    My apologies to any Californian who migrated to Utah but isn’t technically a californicator. Some of the biggest californicators may well be Utah-born californiawannabes. I’m sure Utah has plenty of its own home-grown sprawlspawners and blinking-billboard-owners!

    Anyway, I guess the main point is that demography is destiny. Since foreign immigration (and births to immigrants) is the biggest factor shaping U.S. demographics, we should be having much more debate about this than we have seen so far…

  31. Rob on September 28, 2004 at 6:36 pm

    My last comment seems to have become lost in the ether. So just two quick things.

    1st–californication is the correct technical term, take it from a native Oregonian.

    2nd–for the details on jeremobi’s assertion that immigration is the most important driver of urban sprawl, see here. While net migration from other states may drive more sprawl in some areas, taking the nation as a whole, immigration and births to immigrants is the greatest cause of sprawl.

  32. jeremobi on September 29, 2004 at 12:21 am

    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to follow this thread. But I’ll add a few comments then let it be.


    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Re: your point 1: I did not mean to suggest that current immigration streams have no positive macroeconomic effects. I don’t walk around complaining about low inflation. But the real economic gains from the current level and character of US immigration are minimal. I think George Borjas at Harvard has shown this quite conclusively.

    Pts. 2-3: Your comments are spot-on. Immigration policy is about trade-offs, and it is unlikely that a politically feasible scheme that benefits all parties can be developed. Someone must lose. My comments were just an effort to point out that the current losers are the weakest members of our society. And last week’s immigrant is the most vulnerable today. That may be acceptable to many people.

    Since we know that migrants in the US are rarely the most vulnerable people in their countries of origin, perhaps we might consider the possibility that the truly needy either cannot or want not to emigrate. How shall we help the least of these?

    “doesn’t it make more sense to redistribute wealth from those at the top rather than from those at the bottom?� Okay, I’ll buy that: relax restrictions and tax employers to cover the cost to native labor and to increase foreign aid. But I doubt we could convince the editorial staff of the WSJ to join us.

    Pt. 4: I agree! For me, these are policy questions that demand empirical study and a pragmatic perspective. To be honest, I have a hard time with both “principled expansionists� and “principled restrictionists.�

    Pt.5: Humanitarian settlement—our refugee and asylum stream—is only the third component of US immigration policy. I don’t buy the assumption that US immigration policy approaches anything that can be defined as “aggressive exclusion�—at least comparatively speaking. During the 1990s, an average of more than 1.3 million immigrants — legal and illegal — settled in the United States each year. From 2000 to early 2002, nearly 3.5 million more immigrants arrived. The Census Bureau projects that immigration will cause the population of the United States to increase from its present 288 million to more than 400 million within 50 years.

    The numbers are just as dramatic viewed another way. The present level of immigration is significantly higher than the average historical level of immigration. This flow is due largely to the extraordinary broadening of U.S. immigration policy in 1965. Since 1970, more than 30 million legal and illegal immigrants have settled in the U.S., representing more than 1/3 third of all people ever to come to America’s shores.

    Moreover, asylum policy in Canada aside, a quick jaunt through other high immigration, liberal democracies reveals the US is incredibly liberal (e.g. Canada, Australia, NZ). We’re the loners without complicated, point systems and hoops to jump through. The family-based stream accounts for fully 2/3 of green card recipients!


    It’s probably must me, but I find in real life it is the idea of a free market devoid of politics that is artificial.


    The extra work and loss of sociality inherent in having separate classes at church is a transaction cost many are willing to accept. I loved serving a foreign language mission in an English speaking country so I know a little something about how that works. Sounds like you’re ward either started as a bilingual ward or is now in the process of slowly integrating Spanish speakers. I probably wasn’t clear, but my question was more directed at the dissolution of a Spanish-only branch or ward. Both times I’ve experienced it, the process was gut wrenching for everyone. Glad to hear you have no hiccups!

  33. Adam Greenwood on September 29, 2004 at 10:42 am

    “Humanitarian settlement—our refugee and asylum stream—is only the third component of US immigration policy.”

    At least in the asylum context, the U.S.’s policy is a policy of aggressive exclusion. I know! The Ninth Circuit gets something like 60% of the cases in the country. But Jeremobi is quite right that lots and lots of immigrants are getting here in other ways. I wonder if we policed the borders better, abolished the visa lottery, and cracked down on hiring illegals, the country might be much more open to asylum seekers fleeing persecution.

    Also, Jeremobi may well be right that those most in need of asylum have a hard time getting here. I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if not many residents of the Darfur made it to the US.

  34. Mark B on September 29, 2004 at 11:45 am


    Thanks for the support on that most apt descriptive term for the effects of out-migration from California on its neighbors. For the OED editor wannabes, I recall seeing the term first in the early 70′s, when “Don’t Californicate Oregon” bumper stickers were popular.

    Regarding the essay on urban sprawl by the Center for Immigration Studies, I haven’t read it. Thus I am totally free to attack it, right? It may well be that immigration, and procreation by immigrants, is the engine driving US population upwards. Getting from there to urban sprawl requires jumps over all sorts of issues (e.g., land use policy, public transportation funding, gasoline tax rates, etc. etc.) which are decided by US political bodies without consideration of immigration policy.

    Now, sure, I’d like to go back to those good old days when Provo’s population was 30,000 and Orem’s 6,000, when Orem was the home of the best fruit in Utah, when you could drive to SLC on State Street and hardly notice Sandy and not get into “town” until Murray. But, alas, that’s not going to happen. I wouldn’t want to send my children and grandchild out of the country to bring back those days. And I’m not going to blame the immigrants for the stupid land-use and public transportation decisions that have led to urban sprawl.

  35. Rob on September 29, 2004 at 1:16 pm

    Mark B.
    Go ahead and read that piece about immigration and sprawl. Though you are right that transportation and other policies created sprawl, that is the system that immigrants arrive to, and now that they are arriving more and more, they are a significant fuel driving sprawl.

    But here’s the big question if you want to address sprawl–is it easier to deal with population/immigration issues or transportation/land consumption/urban infrastructure issues?

    Of course,we’ll need millions of unskilled labor jobs to rebuild our cities to be more dense and mass-transit oriented. Is that a win-win?

  36. Mark B on September 30, 2004 at 8:45 am

    Rob says:

    But here’s the big question if you want to address sprawl–is it easier to deal with population/immigration issues or transportation/land consumption/urban infrastructure issues?

    I suspect that it may indeed be easier to appeal to the selfish, nativist impulses that run so close to the surface in many of our fellow citizens than it is to deal with difficult questions of how to fit an ever-growing population into the borders of our country. But, instead of cutting off the flow of immigrants, why not instead cut off the growth of native populations who reproduce at a rate substantially above the national average. Perhaps we should say, paraphrasing Justice Holmes, that “three generations of [Mormons] is enough” and adopt mandatory sterilization laws.

    It is of course easier to ignore the voices of immigrants because they can’t vote–the legal immigration process can take years to complete, and citizenship can take as long as another six years after that.

    No, the problem goes back to freedom and opportunity. As long as our nation offers that in unprecedented abundance, others will come here, just as your forebears did. We can build a Berlin wall along the Mexican border with armed guards, death strips, land mines, etc., to keep people from getting here, but that won’t stop people from trying to come.

    We can either reduce freedom and opportunity here, or engage in the difficult but ultimately more productive course of helping other nations increase freedom and opportunity for all of their citizens. I don’t think any of us wants to be poorer or less free, so we had better get to work on the other side of the equation.


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.