President Bush has repeatedly cautioned us that immigration is a very emotional issue; it speaks to our core values and national identity. He is right to remind us that we are at our best as a self-governing people when we engage in a “civil and dignified” debate, eschewing “scare tactics” and not looking to make partisan points out of serious problems.

The immigration issue cuts across party lines (or, more accurately, divides the parties internally). Democrats are beholden to labor interests who rightly warn that immigration from Mexico drives down wages, but party leaders are also sensitive to Latinos as an enormous and potentially crucial constituency.

Republicans are also divided. The opposition coalition consists of traditional, nativistic, law and order conservatives--wary of the power of Mexican immigrants to change American culture--and post-911 security-minded conservatives, who worry that porous borders invite terrorism. The proponents of a "compromise" bill are generally free-market conservatives, who see immigrants as a necessary and positive component of the labor force, as well as an enormous potential constituency.

Cultural Identity.
However, the issue that is actually driving the debate, but rarely sees the light of day (outside of the conservative blogosphere), is cultural identity. Shall we be a multi-ethnic, multicultural society celebrating diversity and embracing sustained difference? Or shall we advocate assimilation and a unifying culture and be the “Great American Melting Pot”? Aren't we a nation of immigrants? Yes, we are a “nation of nations,” but can we survive as a nation of multiple sovereign and independent nationalities? This is the key question that places this particular debate squarely in the realm of the Culture Wars? Again, who are we going to be as a people?

For this reason, many Americans felt revulsion when they watched immigrants and citizens marching through the streets of Los Angeles carrying Mexican flags, which Michelle Malkin brilliantly dubbed the “reconquista.” Enter now the "Nuestro Himno," a Latino National Anthem in Spanish. The problem with a Latino National Anthem, of course, is Latino nationalism. Citizens of Mexican descent are good Americans (and good Marines). Immigrants from Mexico and other nations south of the border can be great Americans, just like immigrants from Germany and Ireland and Poland and Czechoslovakia made great Americans, but it takes effort and finesse.

Many of the people subsumed in this movement have a lot to offer us, and we should listen to them with respect and patience. Having said that, this movement must be sensitive to the troubling perception of Latino nationalism. President Bush was exactly right in his comments Friday. Citizens of the United States ought to speak English, sing the national anthem in English and salute the American flag. Mexican flags, Latino National Anthems and May Day protests are not helpful.

Please stay tuned for a post on why Mexican immigration is a unique problem along with a solution-oriented (or compromise-oriented) analysis.