Why Liberals Don’t Want Immigrants To Embrace ‘American Values’

Why Liberals Don’t Want Immigrants To Embrace ‘American Values’

American idealism has become so relativistic, we probably couldn't agree on what it is anymore
David Harsanyi
By

“Every immigrant who comes here is ready to embrace American values.”

“Okay. Let’s ask them about it.”

“Racist!”

I’m not exactly sure what Donald Trump’s “extreme vetting” proposal or ideological tests for immigrants would entail — neither does he, I imagine — but it’s been clarifying watching the Left’s histrionics over the GOP nominee’s most innocuous suggestion.

The idea of a test is probably unrealistic because, of course, would-be terrorists would lie about their intentions and beliefs. Islamic terror in the United States has also frequently been committed by other Americans. So Trump’s idea wouldn’t be effective even if Congress went along with it.

The main critique from the Left, though, isn’t about the plan’s practicality but rather its aims. Why is the notion of asking a prospective American if they believe in pluralistic values so offensive to Democrats? I can’t think of a more pertinent question — not economic status or ethnicity or even race, if you can believe it.

The problem is that liberals assume ideological tests would have a disproportionate affect on Islamic refugees — a de facto ban. If that’s true, and Swedish, Chinese, and Indians could pass literacy tests that Pakistanis, Saudis, and Iraqis could not, doesn’t it tell us something about Islam? We’re talking about freedom of association and speech and religion. These aren’t trick questions. Now, if the test skewed to those who comprehend the ideas of Western liberalism, it’s only because that’s where our conceptions of liberty were hatched and cultivated. Sorry.

If you believe in secular governance and personal freedom, then welcome to America! It doesn’t matter what your complexion is. If you believe religious law is preferable to secular governance — as the vast majority of Muslims around the world do, according Pew Research Center’s exhaustive study on the matter (and, for that matter, every poll ever taken on the issue) — you’re still in luck. There are numerous nations where the dream of political Islam is a reality.

Obviously, most American Muslims, to one extent or another, adhere to religious traditions and live under American law. But that doesn’t mean Islam isn’t unique among the major faiths in its reticence to modernity.

“Would he bar conservative Christians/Jews who eschew gender equality & gay rights?” MSNBC’s Joy Reid asks of Trump. Well, if those Christians and Jews supported the supremacy of religious law, then yes, they should be. Almost none do, though. That’s an important distinction liberals are either too obtuse to make or can’t comprehend. It’s the reason why Israel and nearly every Christian-majority nation in the world features a gay pride parade, but almost no Islamic one does.

Or put it this way: Taking a position informed by faith — against abortion or the death penalty, for example — is not the equivalent of advocating that the pope’s decrees supersede the law of the land. Even if that were the case, papists don’t typically end up shooting gay nightclub patrons, just as Hasidic Jews do not bring down buildings. When we act like twenty-first-century Islamic immigration is tantamount to Catholic and Jewish immigration of the early twentieth century, we are doing reality and history a disservice.

We already have an ideological citizenship test, by the way, so the outrage was kind of ridiculous. Immigrants already swear allegiance to “the principles of the Constitution of the United States,” although we hardly press the matter. We also already have precedents that allow us to inquire about the ideological affiliations of prospective citizens. If you were associated with communism, for instance, you can be denied entry into the United States. Few of us were horrified by the idea pressing people about their philosophical positions before citizenship. Suddenly it’s distasteful.

Maybe that’s because our understanding of American values has become so relativistic and malleable over the past few years that we can’t agree what it means. “I bet Trump himself would fail his new immigration screening test of American values” sneered a anti-Second Amendment advocate on Twitter. Maybe Trump wouldn’t pass a test — I’ve certainly been highly critical of his positions. The question is, would these liberals?

Here are a few questions, for instance, that immigrants might do better on than progressives:

  • Do you believe the state should be empowered to place a citizen on a secret police list — without any due process or notice — and then strip that person of his constitutionally guaranteed rights? You know, like they do in those tyrannies immigrants are trying to escape?
  • Do you believe the state should be empowered to ban documentaries and books that focus negatively on a favored political candidate, like they do in Russia?
  • Do you believe it is okay for the state to force a Muslim butcher to whip up some pork hors d’oeuvre for a gay wedding reception if someone demands it of him?

Most honest liberals would have to answer “yes” to all these queries. Democrats have unambiguously campaigned on two of them — in overturning Citizens United and trying to push laws under which millions of Americans would find themselves on FBI terror and no-fly lists for owning firearms. The third question is exactly the situation Christian bakers and florists finds themselves in thanks to liberal activism. So should the same people who support “justice commissions” to regulate thought crimes and cheer an administration that sues nuns and businesses into abandoning their consciences be lecturing anyone on religious freedom?

I’m a big proponent of immigration; a lot of it. But immigration policy is collectively decided by the American people through policy debates and legislation — even if the president sometimes decides to ignore the law. We often disagree on what should be done, but we’ve never proactively imported people who might have trouble with assimilation. Certainly, we have no obligation to celebrate or embrace those who harbor philosophies that perpetuate genuine misogyny and anti-Semitism, etc. The new American idealist calls you a xenophobe for bringing it up.

And I’m not saying Syrian refugees are inherently incapable of embracing American values — Muslims in America most often prove the opposite. It’s certainly not a given, though. Liberals, for one, don’t seem to believe Muslims would pass a test on constitutional ideals. If that’s the case, there are plenty of impoverished and tormented people across the globe who are just as worthy and ready to come here and assimilate. We might have certain unalienable rights, but migrating here from Turkey is not one of them. Not yet.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. He is the author of the book, First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today. Follow him on Twitter.

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