Luma Simms is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center; her essays and articles have appeared in First Things, Public Discourse, The Federalist, Institute for Family Studies, and other publications.

Identity and Assimilation

n our politicallly polarized society, there are few topics that are more controversial than immigration. There are valid arguments for loosening or strengthening immigration restrictions based on economic, national-security, and cultural concerns. Of the cultural concerns lodged by those who want tighter restrictions, the most common is immigrants' seeming inability or unwillingness to assimilate to American society. Many do not speak English, and prefer to live in enclaves populated by immigrants from their home countries rather than taking on the difficult task of weaving themselves into their new communities. Many do not wish to become American at all, and would gladly return to their homelands if only they could live there in safety.

One of the most difficult barriers to assimilation is religiosity. Observant non-Western immigrants especially find it difficult to adapt to the predominantly secular American culture. For those who come from cultures defined by man's relationship to God — even when the state religion is not their own — conforming to the anti-metaphysical philosophy that implicitly informs everyday life in the modern West can be a bridge too far. Assimilating would require giving up the defining aspect of their cultural and individual identities.

The struggle to live in accordance with one's religious beliefs likely sounds familiar to many conservatives, who have had to fight in recent years for special "conscience clauses" to exempt them from laws that impinge on their right to live according to their convictions. This is merely another front in the same battle that some immigrants face: that between a dominant universal secularism and a culture that recognizes God — a culture populated by infinitely plastic identities versus one based on metaphysically informed identities rooted in reality, as George Weigel described in the Spring 2013 issue of this magazine.

Read the rest of the essay in the Spring 2018 issue of National Affairs

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