Saturday, July 3, 1999

Unchecked immigration may Balkanize America
By Yeh Ling-Ling
Special to the Star-Bulletin


BERKELEY, Calif. --Before Slobodan Milosevic capitulated and the NATO bombing stopped, ethnic strife in the former Yugoslavia had escalated to tragic mass killings. Now that the Kosovars are returning home, the killing continues. Ethnic Albanians are seeking revenge by murdering Serbs remaining in Kosovo.

Although the United States is no Yugoslavia, Americans can ill afford to ignore disturbing signs of rising racial and ethnic tensions at home.

This past February, Norman Bernstein, principal of a predominantly Latino school in Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times that he was "beaten unconscious by two men, at least one a Latino..." Those assailants said to him: "We don't want you here anymore, principal. Do you understand that, white principal?"

On June 16, 1998, Mario Obledo, former California Secretary of Health and Welfare and co-founder of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the nation's most prominent Hispanic organizations, was interviewed by the Ray Briem show based in Southern California. He affirmed his position that California is going to become a Hispanic state, and that anyone who does not like it should leave. On the Tom Leykis Show, Obledo said: "...eventually, we are going to take over all the political institutions of California..."

Unfortunately, racial and ethnic tensions have also occurred in many other states: This May, the Detroit News reported that "emotion and racial tensions are running high on the city's east side," where two Arab immigrants were accused of bludgeoning to death an African-American man. Many people in the community, Arabs and non-Arabs, indicated that economics and cultural differences often create tension between blacks and Arabs.

In April, the Arizona Republic reported "a month of increasing border-area tension in Arizona" due to the flood of illegal immigrants. A local mayor expressed concern that his town "is going to be the object of a major international incident."

Last August, the Boston Globe reported frequent friction between Hispanics and whites in a housing project near Boston whose residents have changed from all white to largely Hispanic. A frustrated local white remarked, "If they (Hispanics) can't accept us...they can leave...This was a white town."

Last year, the Record in New Jersey wrote that deep-rooted tension between Korean immigrants and natives in a New Jersey suburb "extends beyond the main street and into schools and everyday life." While the head of a local homeowners' association said that he felt like a stranger in his own town, a Korean American commented, "This is like Korea..."

As early as 1992, Jack Miles, then an editor/ writer for the L.A. Times, warned in his article, "Blacks vs. Browns," that the Rodney King riots were carried out against Latino and Asian immigrants by poor native blacks who felt outcompeted politically and economically.

The New York Times also noted recently that Hispanic and black Americans have "squabbled over control and jobs at the Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in Los Angeles, access to public housing in Chicago and political power in South Florida..."

Racial and ethnic conflicts have always been part of the U.S. experience. However, this country is now experiencing the greatest sustained inflow of immigrants in its history, averaging more than 1.2 million per year. Recent newcomers have come from more than 100 countries, and are not assimilating. How fragmented could America become if we added more than 200 million people to the population within the lifetimes of today's teen-agers, a possibility according to the U.S. Census Bureau?

Although the United States absorbed close to 1 million immigrants per year at the turn of the last century, most of them eventually assimilated, thanks in part to a quasi-moratorium on immigration between 1925 and 1965.

Today, acculturation is nearly impossible due to many factors: progress in telecommunications and transportation that can link most immigrants easily and continuously to their home countries; an explosion of foreign-language media that do not help immigrants learn English, activists promoting bilingual education and multiculturalism; and most importantly, an absence of some sort of "time-out" from mass immigration.

Of course, most problems in America are not caused by immigration. However, competition for resources and differences in culture and ethnicity are often the main dividing forces in multiethnic societies, as illustrated by the mass killings in the former Yugoslavia and recent atrocities against ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. If the U.S. has not been able to address existing problems, should we admit well over a million newcomers every year to add more pressure to our infrastructure and social fabric?

Racial and ethnic harmony can still be achieved in the United States if effective measures are taken to prevent present conflicts from escalating. A necessary and urgent step is for Washington to lower annual immigration to no more than the traditional level of approximately 200,000 a year.

Yeh Ling-Ling is the executive director of
Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America, a national non-profit
organization devoted to population issues.
Her e-mail address is

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