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Immigration reform would help warm Mexicans to US 'melting pot'

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Samuel Huntington is a distinguished scholar who always addresses important and timely issues. In his article on Mexican immigration to the United States published in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Mr. Huntington reveals serious concerns about his country, especially that he sees it divided into two cultures and two languages. This apprehension can't be dismissed. Huntington loves his country, something I understand because I love mine, too, and would not like to see it divided in such a way.

Huntington points to a series of distinctive traits that, he says, have characterized Mexican immigration and have made it different from previous migrations to the US. They include the fact that the immigrants are coming from a contiguous territory; the scale of the migratory flow; its illegal nature; its persistence or continuity over time; and, finally, its history - by which he means the fact that a majority of immigrants are concentrated in what were once Mexican territories, later annexed by the US. Huntington claims Mexican immigrants still feel they have a legitimate claim to these areas.

Although one can argue with many of his details and statistics, these are all real issues. And they lead, in his view, to one fundamental trend: Mexican immigrants are not assimilating into the American melting pot the way other ethnic groups have in the past. If this is even partly true, then Huntington's concern for the future is warranted.

The heart of his argument is this: Because they are failing to assimilate - are not being successfully absorbed into American society as previous immigrant groups have been - Mexicans in the US could be condemned to live there indefinitely as a separate, permanent, second-class subgroup. And no group, of course, wants to be a perpetual, unassimilated minority; not in the US, and not anywhere else.

But despite Huntington's pessimism, the reality is that such an outcome is not inevitable for Mexicans in the US.

US history includes several examples - such as the Irish - in which broad assimilation occurred without immigrants' losing their traditions or links to their native country.

Why can't it be the same for Mexicans? It is true that many previous immigrant groups didn't face a language barrier, and that they probably didn't face racism as acute as Mexicans today face. But that does not mean it cannot happen.

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