The Pros and Cons of Immigration: A Debate

Jacob Neusner, Graduate Research Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies, University of South Florida Martin Buber Professor of Judaic Studies, University of Frankfurt

Immigration nourishes America, affirming the power of its national ideal: a society capable of remaking the entire world in the image of humanity in democracy. No country in the world other than this distant magnet of ours exercises so compelling a power to win for itself the commitment of strangers: we want to be with you and like you, share what is yours and give what is ours to share. When we lose faith in the power of this country and its unique social system to take the foreigner and make the stranger one of us—in our image, after our likeness—and make ourselves over too, we shall deny the power that has made us unique among other nations.

The perpetual encounter with the other, the faith in our way of life that gives us confidence in our power to change and to be changed by the stranger—these on-going experiences, and the attitudes that make them possible, explain who we are as a nation. So far as ours is a story bearing direction and meaning, it is the tale of newcomers coming to be changed by, and to change, the country and its land. Ours has been a history of immigration from the start to today: first came the West Europeans and Africans, then the East Europeans and Asians, and now South Asians and Latin Americans,...

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