Arianna Huffington Triangulates Against (“vigorously disagrees” with) Peter Brimelow

Republished in – October 01, 2003

Orange County Register
(California) June 20, 1995
Beyond the immigration debate

`Resolved: All Immigration Should
Be Drastically Reduced. ” This was the resolution
debated during a recent taping of “Firing Line” at Bard
College in upstate New York. Three interesting things
happened over the course of the debate.  The first was
that, as Peter Brimelow—a recent immigrant like
myself—was arguing for the resolution, his wife was
giving birth to a new American citizen, a little girl
named Hannah Claire Katherine Brimelow.

The second interesting thing was
that the television lights were so bright, the
auditorium so packed, and the air-conditioning so
non-existent that the atmosphere of heavyweight
wrestling was accentuated by rivulets of sweat running
down the combatants` faces, including that of the
eternally cool and composed Bill Buckley. The third
interesting thing was that the most important debate was
not between the two sides, but within the two sides. Ed
Koch, arguing against the resolution, parted company
with the rest of his team by coming down solidly in
favor of Proposition 187 (the winning California
initiative, which denies state welfare, education, and
health benefits to illegal immigrants). And I, arguing
for the resolution, vigorously disagreed with my
teammate Peter Brimelow over his preoccupation with the
ethnic origins of those immigrating to our shores.
Frankly, I couldn`t care less what Americans will look
like in the year 2050; but I do care very much what they
will be like. My concern, in fact, has less to do with
the immigrants immigrating here than with the America
they are immigrating to.

It is not an accident that the
Immigration Act of 1965 coincided with the launching of
the Great Society—the welfare, bilingual education, and
affirmative action policies and the multicultural
experiments that have created an America very different
from the America of the past. Instead of being an
opportunity society, where hard work, enterprise, and
commitment are rewarded with success, or at least a
decent living, America has become an entitlement
society, fostering a culture of rights, subsidies, and
dependence that has infected millions of new immigrants
as it has trapped millions of native-born Americans in
an ever-growing “underclass.”

America today is a nation in
crisis, incapable of absorbing and assimilating the 2
million immigrants—legal and illegal—who make their way
across our borders each year. The problem is not
immigration in and of itself, but rather the combustible
combination of high levels of immigration and the
bankrupt social policies of the last 30 years.

As a Greek immigrant and a recent
American citizen, I know that there is such a thing as
an American identity, and it consists ironically of the
very same virtues that have enabled millions of
immigrants to succeed—hard work, family, faith,
responsibility, and giving back. It is this identity
that we are in danger of losing when multiculturalism
shatters the ideal of One Nation Under God into a
secular set of warring tribes and competing ethnic

After three passionate and
sweltering hours in the auditorium of Bard College, it
dawned on me that the debate over immigration—whether on
“Firing Line,” in Congress, or in coffee shops around
the country—is a microcosm of the larger debate over
what kind of America we want to leave to our children.

I realized this as Leon Botstein,
the president of Bard College, and I argued about
bilingual education. After spending five and a half
billion dollars, in one year, on such programs, dropout
rates and English literacy skills among immigrant
students are a national disgrace. In Los Angeles County
alone, students are schooled in a dizzying array of
foreign languages, including Cantonese and Tagalog,
while New York City public schools are coping with a
shortage of Albanian-speaking teachers.

Confronted with this mounting
evidence of failure, Botstein, without skipping a beat,
replied that what we need is a better bilingual
education. It is the classic liberal defense of all
bankrupt Great Society programs: Let`s reinvent them,
let`s make them better, and all will be well.

I am a Greek immigrant, but I do
not want my children taught Grrek in school. I want them
to learn English. And a growing number of Hispanic and
Asian mothers feel the same way, and are, in fact,
banding together to oppose well-intentioned but
misguided programs that are depriving their children of
a basic building block of success—the English language.
Don`t worry—if we want our children to learn the
language of the old country, we`ll teach it to them
around the kitchen table.

Looking around the “Firing Line”
set, it occurred to me that all the participants
belonged to the top

1 percent of society
in terms of affluence,
education, and the privileges that come with them.

Everyone there has been only
favorably impacted by immigration—more

Korean delis,
more Chinese cleaners, more Filipino
maids. Under these circumstances, why not wax lyrical
about the joys of unrestricted immigration?

Those who have really been affected
are working-class Americans who are being pushed off the
ladder of opportunity by illegal immigrants representing
an unending source of

cheap labor
, or who feel it`s unfair for then to pay
for illegal immigrants on welfare while they themselves
can barely make ends meet. What the debate made clear
was the profound disconnect between the liberal elite
that created the entitlement society and extended its
rights to all immigrants, legal and illegal, and the
majority of hard-working Americans who pay the bills.

Toward the end of the debate,

Ira Glasser
, executive director of the ACLU,
received a hearty round of applause when he passionately
proclaimed that “I am in favor of a poor pregnant
woman—whether a legal or illegal immigrant—being able to

prenatal care
anywhere she goes. It is a mark of
civilization not to turn people like that away. ”

How could a reasonable person disagree?

But what is at issue, both in the
immigration debate and in the larger political debate
about the role of government, is the assumption that
government is the only source of goodness in our lives.
It is an assumption radically at odds with our historic
American identity—optimistic, compassionate, generous,
overcoming all odds. Until we resurrect the vision and
this spirit we are not equipped to continue the most
successful immigration experiment on Earth.

Ms. Huffington is an author and
a senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation
in Washington, D.C., and chairwoman of its Center for
Effective Compassion.