Immigration—and Assimilation—Take Center Stage at Conservative Summit

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, both the sons of immigrants, have different views.

Bobby Jindal, Republican governor of Louisiana, speaks during a conversation at the National Review Institute 2015 ideas summit in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, May 1, 2015. Jindal, a potential Republican candidate for the presidency, has proposed higher-education funding cuts of more than $200 million and trimming tax credits to bring in more revenue.

Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Three of the GOP's likely presidential candidates have immigrant parents. Two of them, speaking today, made the case against multiculturalism and the emotional case for immigration reform. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who is expected to run for president, told conservatives today that more legal immigrants would be welcome in America if they had the right skills—and if they assimilated.

"I do think we need to increase the number of people coming through the front door," said Jindal at today's session of the National Review Institute Ideas Summit. "One of the dumbest things we do right now is in the number of people with advanced degrees that we kick out."

That put Jindal to the left of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who remains the only major 2016 Republican hopeful who's talked about making legal immigration conditional on whether natural-born Americans can find jobs. Jindal's context, however, was an argument against the "salad bowl" (as opposed to melting pot) vision of America he'd been lectured about when he went to Brown University.

"In Europe they do have this problem where they have second, third, generation immigrants that don't consider themselves fully European, or German, or British," said Jindal. "There's nothing wrong with saying English is our language. There's nothing wrong with teaching American exceptionalism in our schools—not grievances or victimhood."

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who was born to Cuban immigrants, told the audience that the cause of any reform was hurt by activists who framed it as an issue of universal human rights. He did not name names, but in absentia, he debated the sort of "define American" arguments for easy citizenship made by activists like Jose Antonio Vargas.

"Among the problems I have with the groups that advocate for immigration reform—some of them—is that they approach this debate with the argument that they have rights," said Rubio. "It's not a right. You're appealing to our best interests as a country. You're appealing to our morality as a people. But you can't appeal to a right. There is no right to illegally immigrate anywhere in the world."

The two Republicans were the overture and encore for a different kind of immigration skeptic. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who immigrated to Holland from Somalia and had become a vehement critic of radical Islam, told conservatives to master assimilation lest they go the way of Europe.

"If you compare the wave after wave of Hispanic migration to the U.S., it is about that many Muslim immigrants from war-torn countries," said Hirsi Ali. "I was very sad, when I left, that the politicians had not reached, in any way, conclusions about how to assimilate."

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