“Before 1882, immigration to the United States was barely regulated at all. Passports weren’t required, and 98 percent of all immigrants to Castle Garden in New York Harbor were admitted. Citizenship was not as easy to acquire, but the concept of illegal immigration did not yet exist. Almost anyone who wanted to move to America was free to do so.” (see How Illegal Immigration Was Born By Claire Lui)
What has happened during the intervening 100 years or more that now some 12 million immigrants to our country are labeled illegal? Well what happened was that we made rules and regulations, laws, that suddenly and arbitrarily made “illegals” of the millions who came here. These people, now “illegals,” were no different from the millions who came here in earlier times when there were no laws.
Why did we do this? And were we right to do so? Has our anti-open immigration policy, begun with the Chinese Exclusion act of May 6, 1882, signed into law by President Chester Arthur, and continuing on right up until the present time with the tough illegal immigration measure signed into law by the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, and requiring state police to question people about their immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion,” has any of this somehow protected us, made us safer, let alone more prosperous?
Isn’t it a fact that those who are violently opposed to our making it easier for immigrants who are here without visas or other permissions (“illegally”) to remain here, that those who are opposed to amnesty of any sort, are opposed for the single reason that these people are here sans papiers?
But these people coming to our shores are not criminals. The anti-immigration voices would make them so. These voices never tire of repeating that we are a country of laws, and that those already here who have not obeyed our laws should be deported, and that those who are not yet here, but who would come here illegally, should be kept out by strict border controls including impassable physical barriers.
The opponents to open immigration seem not to be aware of the history of immigration to our country, and the fact that our country owes everything to the contributions of successive waves of immigrants, and for hundreds of years to successive waves of “illegal” immigrants.
Nor do the opponents seem aware that even today those who are here sans papiers contribute significantly to our country’s wealth by the work that they do. For if it’s not a fact it’s not at all clear that the presence of the so-called illegals among us, as was the case for the millions of their predecessors, is not a net benefit to the country.
So why don’t we welcome them and find a way to help them to remain here and make a good life for themselves, again just as the millions who preceded them, strengthening the country by their work and their presence? Aren’t we by our more and more draconian anti-immigration policies only shooting ourselves in the foot?
Furthermore the vast majority of the illegal immigrants come from a single country, Mexico. We ought to be working closely with this country, facilitating the process of Mexican guest workers coming here in response to our need for the work that only they seem able to provide. We ought not to be keeping them out, or making things difficult for those already here.
And finally, rather than building walls between ourselves and Mexico we ought to be furthering the economic cooperation between our two countries, and Canada. The Mexicans who come here to work ought to have special status and consideration. The “illegal” problem created by our own lack of vision, as well as by an ignorance of our history, would disappear if the Mexicans who want to live and work in our country were helped to do so.