Should we provide a road to naturalization for the illegal immigrant? Or should we deport him? Up until now we have mostly let him alone, allowing him to do for himself, which still may be the best path for us to follow.
However, there are those among us, led by zealots and demagogues such as Lou Dobbs, who are convinced we should “wall” our country and prevent those without entry visas from coming here at all. I would hope that these people are never more than a minority among us.
In any case, as history has shown, an impermeable wall is not possible. But more important walling off our country flies in the face of what this country had been throughout most of its history, a welcoming land for all those who, for whatever reason, wanted to come here and work and create better lives for themselves.
Our country’s exceptional strength and extraordinary resiliency has always depended on there being large numbers of such people, people who left everything behind in the old country in order to come here to the new world and begin again. We would be crazy to put walls and threats of deportation in their way.
I share the views of Warren Meyer who on his Coyote Blog lays out a philosophical argument for [open] immigration.
“Individual Rights Don’t Come From the Government. Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual rights exist by the very fact of our existence as thinking human beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or congressmen. Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have inherently as human beings.
“Do you see where this is going? The individual rights we hold dear are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens. They flow from our very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds. We have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other men. We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work. We have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through force or fraud.
“So Citizenship Shouldn’t Determine What Rights You Have. These rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn’t, therefore, be contingent on “citizenship”. I should be able, equally, to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars in Sweden. David or Lars, who are equally human beings, have the equal right to buy my property, if we can agree to terms. If he wants to get away from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a private airline to fly here, contract with another person to rent an apartment or buy housing, contract with a third person to provide his services in exchange for wages. But Lars can’t do all these things today, and is excluded from these transactions just because he was born over some geographic line? To say that Lars or any other “foreign” resident has less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors, and transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these activities, WHICH IT IS NOT.
“In fact, when the US government was first formed, there was no differentiation between a “citizen” and “someone who dwells within our borders” – they were basically one in the same. It is only since then that we have made a distinction. I can accept that there can be some minimum residence requirements to vote in elections and perform certain government duties, but again these are functions associated with this artificial construct called “government”. There should not be, nor is there any particular philosophical basis for, limiting the rights of association, speech, or commerce based on residency or citizenship, since these rights pre-date the government and the formation of border.
“New “Non-Right Rights” Are Killing Immigration. In fact, until the 1930′s, the US was generally (though not perfectly) open to immigration, because we accepted the premise that someone who was born beyond our borders had no less right to find their fortune in this country than someone born in Boston or New York. I won’t rehash the history of immigration nor its importance to the building of this country, because I don’t want to slip from the philosophical to the pragmatic in my arguments for immigration.
“In the 1930′s, and continuing to this day, something changed radically in the theory of government in this country that would cause immigration to be severely limited and that would lead to much of the current immigration debate. With the New Deal, and later with the Great Society and many other intervening pieces of legislation, we began creating what I call non-right rights. These newly described “rights” were different from the ones I enumerated above. Rather than existing prior to government, and requiring at most the protection of government, these new rights sprang forth from the government itself and could only exist in the context of having a government. These non-right rights have multiplied throughout the years, and include things like the “right” to a minimum wage, to health care, to a pension, to education, to leisure time, to paid family leave, to affordable housing, to public transportation, to cheap gasoline, etc. etc. ad infinitum.
“Here is a great test to see if something is really a right, vs. one of these fake rights. Ask yourself, “can I have this right on a desert island”. Speech? Have at it. Assembly? Sure, if there is anyone or things to assemble with? Property? Absolutely — if you convert some palm trees with your mind and labor into a shelter, that’s your home. Health care? Uh, how? Who is going to provide it? And if someone could provide it, who is going to force them to provide it if they don’t want to. Ditto education. Ditto a pension.
“These non-right rights all share one thing in common: They require the coercive power of the government to work. They require that the government take the product of one person’s labor and give it to someone else. They require that the government force individuals to make decisions in certain ways that they might not have of their own free will.
“And since these non-right rights spring form and depend on government, suddenly citizenship matters in the provision of these rights. The government already bankrupts itself trying to provide all these non-right rights to its citizens — just as a practical matter, it can’t afford to provide them to an unlimited number of new entrants. It was as if for 150 years we had been running a very successful party, attracting more and more guests each year. The party had a cash bar, so everyone had to pay their own way, and some people had to go home thirsty but most had a good time. Then, suddenly, for whatever reasons, the long-time party guests decided they didn’t like the cash bar and banned it, making all drinks free. But they quickly learned that they had to lock the front doors, because they couldn’t afford to give free drinks to everyone who showed up. After a while, with the door locked and all the same people at the party, the whole thing suddenly got kind of dull.
“Today, we find ourselves in polit
ical gridlock over immigration. The left, which generally supports immigration, has a lot at stake in not admitting that the new non-right rights are somehow subordinate to fundamental individual rights, and so insist new immigrants receive the full range of government services, thus making immigration prohibitively expensive. The right, whether through xenophobia or just poor civics, tends to assume that non-citizens have no rights whatsoever, whether it be the “right” to health care or the more fundamental right, say, to habeas corpus.”
So what to do? The extreme views of Lou Dobbs, Michelle Malkin, et al. on the right will not prevail because they are extreme, and because they do not take into account the millions of illegals who are presently in the country and who are providing useful, if not essential, services to the country.
There have always been “illegals” among us. Up until recently we’ve had no trouble with that. What has changed that we no longer accept this, what has been for our country up until now, normal situation? Well 9/11 has happened, and there are those on the right who believe that only the twin engines of the wall to disallow their entry, and deportation to insure their rapid exit, will prevent another 9/11.
Probably only with the demise of Al Qaeda, that which is not about to happen, will we again welcome all comers to our shores.
What we ought to do, and that we have done unthinkingly in the past, is to accept the fact that the illegals are people just like ourselves, and that in their great majority they are honest and hard working and deserve, no less than our immigrant forbears, to have before them a reasonable road to naturalization and citizenship.