The recent enactment (and even more recent amendment) of a state law in Arizona that criminalizes illegal immigrant status has brought the issue of immigration to the forefront of national attention. For the news reports I have heard, it seems to be one of those issues where people quickly choose up sides, adopt hard-line positions, and then are unwilling to try to understand the views and motivations of the other side. Massive marches to protest the Arizona law are planned for today.
Yesterday four of us from the office — JV, The Unkempt Guy, the Domer, and me — had an animated but respectful, and I think helpful, discussion about the immigration issue. Although we approached the issue from different perspectives, our discussion indicated that there are some clear points of agreement.
First, we all recognized (obviously) that racial profiling is unacceptable and destructive of our free and pluralistic society. The biggest challenge for the Arizona statute, if it ever takes effect, will be to develop some method for determining “reasonable suspicion” that is not, in reality, focused exclusively or primarily on skin color and language capabilities. Perhaps everyone who is stopped by police should be treated equally and asked to provide the same evidence of citizenship or legal immigrant status, as a routine matter.
Second, we all agreed that maintaining secure borders is a fundamental requirement of nationhood and the job of the federal government. If you cannot prevent marauding bands of armed men from crossing the border at will, can you even call yourself a country? It may be easy for people in Ohio or other northern states to criticize the citizens of Arizona or downplay their concerns, but I’ve heard some harrowing reports about Americans who live near the border who have been hurt, killed, or terrorized by the armed groups of drug runners or human traffickers who have crossed the border and roamed the desert with impunity. Who would want to be awakened at night by the sounds of unknown groups of men crossing their property?
Third, we all agreed that legal immigration has been a wonderful thing for our country and should be encouraged. This should not be a surprise — all of us have ancestors who came to this land, though Ellis Island and other ports of entry, from various parts of Europe and the British Isles, eager to start a new life in a New World of freedom and opportunity.
What do these three points of agreement mean? For me, this means that the federal government has failed in one of its primary responsibilities. I think the answer is to create whatever structures or patrolling approaches are necessary to keep illegal aliens from crossing the border into this country — period. In an age of terrorism and weaponry that can easily cause mass casualties, we simply cannot accept a porous southern border. In addition, we should liberalize our immigration laws to allow for significantly more legal immigration. I think immigration is an easy way for America to continue to grow and prosper, because legal immigrants traditionally are energetic risk-takers who are willing to sacrifice their old lives and old ways for the hope of a new and better life. Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who came to America were hard-working, thrifty, patriotic, and dedicated to their children’s success and their family’s betterment. Those immigrants made this country an immeasurably better place to live, and we should welcome such people with open arms — just as the Statute of Liberty says:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name,
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”