Immigrant Integration, or Assimilation?

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 04, 2008 2 min read
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The topic of “immigrant integration” has become a buzz phrase here in the nation’s capital, but some continue to prefer to use the word “assimilation” instead.

Two years ago, President Bush weighed in on the issue of how to help immigrants find a place in American society, putting out an executive order to form a “Task Force on New Americans” within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The goal of establishing such a task force was “to help legal immigrants embrace the common core of American civic culture, learn our common language, and fully become Americans.” The task force says on its Web site that one of its objectives is “gathering input on successful immigrant integration practices.”

Lawmakers recently introduced a bill in Congress intended to support immigrants in learning English and civics. It calls for an “office of citizenship and immigrant integration” to be established in the Department of Homeland Security. The bill, H.R. 6617, is called “Strengthening Communities Through Education and Integration Act.”

The Migration Policy Institute is offering a training institute on “immigration and integration” in September. There’s that word “integration” again.

But Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which works to curtail immigration to the United States, uses the term “assimilation”. I skimmed his chapter, “Assimilation: The Cracked Melting Pot,” and sections about education in his book, The New Case Against Immigration. He criticizes government for being unwilling “to insist on the primacy of English in the public sphere.” He claims that because of multiculturalism, “schools today are failing utterly to pass on the history and heroes and legends of our past.” (The American Enterprise Institute hosted him last month to talk about his book.)

The Bradley Foundation also chose to use the term assimilation in a report it released this summer that contends immigrants in the past assimilated into American society faster than they do now. (Flypaper picked up on David Broder’s commentary about the report.)

I see a difference between the two terms. Integration, to me, means that immigrants find a role in this society regardless of whether they adopt the culture of the United States; assimilation implies that, in fact, they do adopt U.S. culture. Assimilation may happen along the way, but should it be a goal that educators have who are supporting English-language learners? Do you see a distinction between the two words?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.