The Important Difference Between Assimilation and Integration

Statue of Liberty signpost in New York CityControversial London mayor Sadiq Khan recently toured the United States in support of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Commenting on U.S. immigration policy, Mr. Khan said, “People shouldn’t have to drop their cultures and traditions when they arrive in our cities and countries.” He also stated that he believes in “integration” rather than “assimilation.”

Mr. Khan, who is from an immigrant family, raises an interesting point. What is the difference between “integration” and “assimilation”?

Assimilation is generally defined as adopting the ways of another culture and fully becoming part of a different society. Whereas integration is typically defined as incorporating individuals from different groups into a society as equals. The difference is subtle but significant.

When immigrants assimilate, they accept the ways of their host and become a full part of the community.  Assimilation implies that immigrants, through education and experience, can earn their way into the host culture and be seamlessly accepted as full members of their new community.

By contrast, integration suggests boundaries. It is defined in terms of equality. But in this context equality indicates that a host is obligated to embrace foreign cultures as equal, even when they conflict with the values and traditions of the host.

Integration may sound wonderful, but this isn’t always the case. Imagine the chaos that would result if a mass migration of Britons insisted the United States integrate their tradition of driving on the left side of the road, rather than assimilating to the American preference for the right side. That’s an amusing example. But the situation becomes dire if one considers the wider implications of integration over assimilation – especially when mass migration is from countries where polygamy, child labor or slavery is considered acceptable.

Despite Mr. Kahn’s assertions to the contrary, people are not required to drop their cultures and traditions when they arrive in the United States. What American doesn’t know crowds of people who maintain some connection to another culture? Apparently Mr. Khan has never attended a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston, or a Dominican Day festival in New York City. In fact, the happy acceptance of foreign folkways is a uniquely American value.

But immigrants to the U.S. are expected to learn enough about American culture to be able to obey the law and participate in the commercial and civic life of the nation. This is a reasonable expectation. Assimilation cultivates success for newcomers and prevents the head-on collisions that result when everyone drives in opposite directions on the same side of the road. Most importantly, it’s what turns immigrants into Americans.

avatar About Matt O'Brien

Matthew J. O’Brien joined FAIR in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar Rossbach says:

    The solution to the problem is to end mass immigration. The problem then goes away. If not, consider deportation, beginning with figures such as the current mayor of London.

  2. avatar SecBorders says:

    To make a comment about the first debate, it does not say much about the health of our democracy when the debates are hosted by and the questions selected by corporate media outlets like NBC that are owned and controlled by the same greedy corporate special interests that own and control most of our government. NBC has given money to La Raza and is part of a huge corporate media empire that profits from mass immigration. They have an obvious conflict of interest so why are they hosting the debate?

    All of the debates should be on C-SPAN and be hosted by parties that are not pushing a corrupt agenda. Millions of people are watching the debates to decide who to vote for, and this conflict of interest is not even disclosed before the debate began. Too bad.

  3. avatar Leland says:

    So he says that immigrants should not have to drop their cultures and traditions. But he has no problem with demands that the host country should change for the immigrants. And they do demand that. Several years ago the Somali Muslim cab drivers at Minneapolis airport demanded that they be able to refuse people who carry liquor. Pushy demanding idiot. Would he say Muslim nations should change for Christian immigrants? Oh that’s right, they don’t take any and they don’t allow Christians to practice their religion openly.

    But this is what Hillary and the Democrats want to shove down your throat and if you don’t like it she says it’s because of “islamaphobia”. Frankly she has a far worse condition. It’s called Islamakissa##. The way she and Bill carry on, you would think they’re received hundreds of millions of dollars from Muslim countries. Oh wait, they have. Shouldn’t they have to register as foreign agents?

    The press has such a double standard on another of Hillary’s heroines, Miss Universe. First of all, she is the only one who said Trump called her that. No one else backed it up. Second, it turns out she was investigated as an accessory to murder and a federal judge in Venezuela said she called him and threatened to have him killed if her boyfriend was indicted. If this person’s name had fallen from Trump’s lips it would have been not stop coverage. Instead, silence. Plus this piece of work recently got American citizenship. This is what is good for the country? Vote Hillary if you think so.

    • avatar Leland says:

      Perfect example of the bias against Trump. The Today Show this morning, including Chuck Todd, attacked him because he had tweeted out statements about the former Miss Universe and “suggesting that she has a past”. There is no suggesting anything. She’s made hard core porn movies and a judge in Venezuela DID claim that she called him and threatened to have him killed. But they never mentioned ANY of that. They just turned it into an attack on Trump for picking on this poor woman. How about actually talking about the things she did and let the viewers decide. Nah, can’t do that. NBC has been and is in Hillary’s pocket. Total bias.

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        Try this search: “Poll numbers and Rally attendance are unrelated”

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