National Identity in a Multicultural Nation: The Challenge of Immigration Law and Immigrants

Posted: 2 Nov 2004

See all articles by Kevin R. Johnson

Kevin R. Johnson

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Bill Ong Hing

University of San Francisco - School of Law


This review essay, which will be published in the Michigan Law Review's 2005 Survey of Books, analyzes Samuel Huntington's provocative new book Who Are We?: The Challenges to National Identity (2004), which is rich with insights about the negative impacts of globalization and the burgeoning estrangement of people and businesses in the United States from a truly American identity. Professor Huntington's fear is that the increasingly multicultural United States could disintegrate into the type of ethnic strife that destroyed the former Yugoslavia, or, in less dramatic fashion, has divided Quebec for much of the twentieth century. Forming a cohesive national identity with a heterogeneous population is a formidable task but, as Professor Huntington recognizes, critically important to the future of the United States.

Professor Huntington identifies and analyzes a perceived loss of national identity in the United States over the tail end of the twentieth century, during roughly the same period that the civil rights revolution forever changed the nation. Who Are We? takes the controversial position on U.S. immigration law and policy, which frequently touches a nerve with the public. Professor Huntington sounds a familiar alarm that immigration and immigrant law and policy is out of control and must be reformed. In asking the nation to reconsider its immigration policies, Professor Huntington again asks a question well worth asking.

Professor Huntington expresses fear about the impacts of immigrants - specifically Mexican immigrants - on the United States, its culture, and, most fundamentally, the American way of life. He sees immigration and immigrants as transforming a white Anglo Saxon cultural nation and fears what he sees on the horizon for the United States, which he suggests is something apocryphal, raising the specter of the fall of Rome. In expressing such fears, Professor Huntington ties immigration to critical aspects of national identity and sees the identity of the United States changing slowly but surely as new and different - culturally and otherwise - immigrants are coming in large numbers to the United States.

We agree wholeheartedly with Professor Huntington that national identity is central to the discussion of immigration and immigrants. In turn, the race and culture of immigrants affect the national identity. Unfortunately, such aspects of immigration law are frequently overlooked in academic studies of the subject.

The integration of immigrants into the political, social, and economic fabric of the United States undisputedly is an important public policy concern and fully warrants the careful attention of academics and policy-makers. Law and policy should strive to foster integration of immigrants into U.S. society, for example, by seeking to eliminate the immigrant caste structure in the labor market. Unfortunately, law has often done the opposite, with distinctions between different groups of immigrants thwarting their assimilation into American social life.

We strongly disagree, however, with Professor Huntington's normative evaluation of the impacts of immigration and what changes in immigration law and policy are necessary. Who Are We? wholly overlooks the positive impacts of immigration and immigrants. Consequently, it resembles a cost-benefit analysis that focuses exclusively on costs.

This review focuses on two fundamental flaws in Professor Huntington's analysis of immigration in the modern United States. First, contrary to the claim that a separatist Mexican nation is emerging in this country, all immigrants in fact do assimilate to a certain degree into U.S. social life. Second, even if one were to conclude that today's immigrants from Latin America were not assimilating, the answer in our estimation would be to fashion law and policy that truly fosters their integration into U.S. society.

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Kevin R. and Hing, Bill Ong, National Identity in a Multicultural Nation: The Challenge of Immigration Law and Immigrants. Available at SSRN:

Kevin R. Johnson (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
400 Mrak Hall Drive
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States
530 752 0243 (Phone)
530 752 7279 (Fax)

Bill Ong Hing

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States

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