The latest figures on immigration to -- and from -- the United States reveal how its character is changing. Indeed, already has changed. But our presidential candidates don't seem to have changed much at all when they discuss the issue.
Case in point: Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and regular presidential candidate, formally announced his run for the White House this week at a big rally in little Hope, Ark., and is preparing to run strong -- in 2008. His various talking points, from the flat tax to the need to strengthen our southern border, could have been copied directly from his old campaign speeches. The applause lines, oldies but goodies, have a more than familiar ring, like a once popular song everyone grew tired of long ago.
It's enough to make you wonder if Brother Huckabee is undertaking another presidential campaign or just taking a stroll down memory lane. Consider his promise to seal our southern border to keep all those illegals out -- even if the border now seems to be sealing itself. News item: "During the first six months of the current fiscal year, the number of apprehensions of immigrants coming illegally across the southwest border -- a strong indicator of efforts to cross the border illegally -- was 28 percent lower than in the prior year, the Department of Homeland Security reported late last month. Overall, apprehensions today are 'a fraction of where they were 15 years ago,' the department says, and data confirm that." --Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2015.
Other signs of the changing times along the border:
"The influx of young and unaccompanied minors from Central America, which generated much attention and alarm a year ago, has declined dramatically, partly the result of a serious effort by Mexico to clamp down on use of its territory as a transit point. The number of unaccompanied minors from Central America that Mexico has deported rose 56 percent in the first five months of the current fiscal year, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
"A clear sign of substantial change arrived three years ago this spring, when Pew reported that, after four decades of a steady inflow of illegal Mexican immigrants into the U.S., the influx had begun to reverse -- that is, more Mexicans were returning to Mexico than were coming into the U.S., according to data from both countries. A combination of factors -- steady improvements in Mexico's economy, strengthened border enforcement and deportations, a decline in Mexican birth rates -- has come together over a period of years to change the picture. Yet that change has barely made a dent in the political rhetoric that shapes the national immigration conversation...."
Here are some other details about immigration to this country that may have escaped the attention of our presidential campaigners:
"In 2013, China replaced Mexico as the top country sending immigrants to the U.S., according a new Census Bureau study. Indeed, immigration from both China and India has been increasing for a decade, and inflows from other Asian countries are climbing as well, while immigration from Mexico has been declining, the study notes."
Recommended reading: "Diversity Explosion," a new book by William Frey, who may be the country's leading demographer, and who points out that the next America probably won't have a majority-white or a majority-anything population.
My immediate reaction: So what? Because, despite all the fearmongers, it's not the color or class or ethnic identity of Americans that holds all of us together but an idea. After centuries of colonial rule, that idea crystallized into a single phrase in the Declaration of Independence: "... that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Each of us in our own, free American way.
As one patchwork nation succeeded another on these shores, the American Idea became clearer, stronger, more pervasive -- till it came to be the creed that makes this nation exceptional.
It is not Bismarck's blood-and-iron that binds us together, however valorous our past. It is not Burke's protean English tradition, always conserving the old in new ways, or the French philosophes' abstract theories, or the kind of fierce ideologies that Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia unleashed on an innocent world. ... No, it is those few words about each of us being equal in the pursuit of our own happiness, rather than grist for some some utopia dreamed up and imposed on us by others who claim to know what is best for us.
No matter what we or our children and grandchildren and their children may look like, it is the American Idea that endures. And continues to attract new Americans from the rest of the world. May they keep coming, and may the American Idea stay bright, like a sign shining in the middle of a dark night. One that says: This Way to Freedom.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.