I feel the need to write a political post, for a change. I've been observing the recent debate over immigration, and it's got me thinking. The part of the debate I dislike the most is the idea of a guest worker program. First of all, this system is in place in Germany (you know, one of those evil European powers that didn't support the war), but doesn't work that well. In Germany there is a sizable Turkish population (Turkish, but not born in Turkey), but the Turks stay low income and separated. In some parts of Europe this ghettoesque set up is fueling the terrorist cells. It doesn't work in Germany, but that's not what makes me cringe at the idea of an American guest worker program.
Now I'm a linguist, and along the way linguists pick up a good bit of sociology, too. Right now Mexican (and other) immigrants go through a tri-generational cycle. The first generation can't speak English, live in monoethnic communities, and by and large don't fit in as "Americans". The second generation speak their native language along with English (usually with only moderate proficiency), they live in the same monoethnic communities, but they get out a lot and mingle. The third generation can't speak anything but English, move to the suburbs, and you can't tell where they're from without knowing their last name. This is the way it was with the Irish; it's the way it was with the Italians; it's the way it was with the Eastern Europeans; and it's how it'll work with the Hispanics. However, if you create a permanent immigrant class, that's what it will stay- permanent. The immigrants will never merge into "American culture".
The Turks in Germany are culturally Turkish, even after multiple generations. It's being an American citizen that motivates becoming American. While the Hispanics are more cohesive as a group than most earlier waves of immigrants, they will eventually "fit in". It's too difficult to maintain a non-American tradition in this country. It's not easy to function here without knowing English, and stopping at Wal-Mart you won't find any Mexican food other than a burrito. It's hard to integrate quickly, but immigrants do so after a generation or too. Besides, these people tried very hard to get here. There's no reason to believe they don't want to be like Americans.