Identifying Four Core Issues Underlying the Immigration Debate

The clarity of many public policy debates gets derailed when the sloppy and imprecise use of words reduces such debates to cliches instead of a substantive discussion of issues. Recent developments in the immigration debate are merely the latest example. The result has been a focus on the wrong issues. More importantly, by having no connection to the principles underlying the American Founding, the public discourse on immigration has not led to a deeper understanding of what it truly means to be an American citizen.
As an example, our friends on the Left at Rhode Island’s Future show an interesting, albeit flawed, understanding of both the real issues underlying the immigration debate and its connection to our American heritage in their posting entitled America Doesn’t Work without Immigrants:

Today, the police estimated that 15,000-20,000 Rhode Islanders marched to the RI State House for the human rights of the 12-15 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the shadows and only seek a legal pathway to citizenship. Just as millions of Americans marched for the civil rights of African-Americans while others in America expressed their disgust at giving civil rights to ‘inferior’ African-Americans, the struggle for dignity and justice continues to ensure the great promise of freedom enshrined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Is the immigration debate really about “only seeking a legal pathway to citizenship” by people who love America and, thus, long to be officially a part of her? Information in previous postings by Andrew (here, here) and Marc would certainly suggest not.
Extensive coverage of the May 1 illegal immigration marches by Michelle Malkin only raises further questions about who is behind many of the rallies:
A Day to Hate the Yanquis
The Pictures You Won’t See
Borders? What Borders?
The Day to Hate Republicans
L.A.’s Reconquista Reporter
[UPDATE: Here are some more links:
Where’s the Compassion?
Reconquista 101
Calling White People “Wetbacks?”
Aztlan brown beret picture, showing a map of the Southwest USA becoming part of Mexico
Following all the links in these postings will be an eye-opener] So do postings at Malkin’s The Immigration Blog. The April 10 posting reminds us that the freedom to assemble does not exist in other countries who receive less criticism at these rallies than America. What does that say about the protestors’ political agenda?
Lovers of the late communist guerilla Che and socialist groups like A.N.S.W.E.R. are the antithesis of freedom-loving Americans and they appear to be commandeering the illegal alien protest movement in many parts of the country. These are not people who love America and the timeless principles of her Founding.
Others who promote the same immigration political agenda need to be careful about aligning themselves with (or being manipulated by) such non-democrats.
Byron York reminds us that labor unions are intimately involved because it aligns with their own economic self-interest of growing union membership – even if the immigration policies they end up supporting run counter to both the rule of law and America’s Founding principles:

UNITE HERE, which represents about 460,000 workers in the U.S. and Canada but hopes to unionize millions of newly arrived, low-paid, unskilled immigrant workers, played a major role in organizing the Washington rally, as well as other pro-illegal-immigration events across the country…
The chief organizer and spokesman of the Washington rally was a man named Jaime Contreras, who heads the local SEIU chapter…
SEIU and UNITE HERE, along with a few others like the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, are key sources of money, talent, and organization in the nationwide campaign to legalize illegal immigrants.

The Chamber of Commerce deserves some criticism, too, for its implicit support of illegal aliens as “cheap labor” in the workforce, although their involvement has been more passive than the unions.
Determining who is behind many of the rallies and identifying their political agenda is a real issue that needs more public scrutiny.
It is an insult to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. to suggest that this week’s protests have any moral basis comparable to King’s efforts on behalf of black Americans.
Mark Krikorian elaborates on why:

The question now is whether the government of the United States will give in to the mob…
…the use of direct action to intimidate lawmakers is largely alien to American experience. The civil-rights marches, which the illegal-alien movement frequently points to as its inspiration, were explicitly patriotic and constitutional affairs. The 1963 march on Washington didn’t feature foreign flags and racist, anti-American signs; on the contrary, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech pointed to the promise of “the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” written by “the architects of our Republic,” and his peroration was based on the lyrics of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”
The illegal-alien marches, starting almost two months ago in Chicago, have more in common with the anti-war marches of the 1960s in their hostility to the American constitutional order…

It is equally absurd to use meaningless cliches and label every political cause a “civil rights issue” – a behavior that can only result from a superficial understanding of the principles underlying the American Founding as well as King’s just crusade.
I would strongly suggest that Heather Mac Donald’s mid-April viewpoint expressed in Postmodern “Rights” en Los Estados Unidos: “I am here,” so deal with it more accurately describes what many of us consider to be a major – but unaddressed – issue in this immigration debate: Does the rule of law, a core principle of the American Founding, still matter in America?

With last month’s mass demonstrations of illegal aliens, the United States has entered the era of postmodern rights. The protesters looked like conventional rights demonstrators, with their raised fists, chants, and banners. But unlike political protesters of the past, the illegal-alien marchers invoked no legal basis for their claims. Their argument boils down to: “We are here, therefore we have a right to the immigration status we desire.” Like the postmodern signifier, this legal claim refers to nothing outside of itself; it is, in the jargon of deconstruction, a presence based on an absence.
The consequences of this novel argument are not insignificant: the demise of nation-states and of the rule of law. Remember: The only basis for the illegals’ demands is: “I am here.” The “I am here” argument could be made by anyone anywhere – a Moroccan sneaking into Sweden could make the same demand for legal status. In one stroke, the border-breaking lobby has nullified the entire edifice of American immigration law and with it, sovereignty itself. None of the distinctions in that law matter, the advocates say. The conditions for legal entry? Null and void. The democratically chosen priorities for who may enter the country and who not? Give me a break! In other words, the United States has no right to decide who may come across its borders and what legal status an alien may obtain upon arrival. Those decisions remain solely the prerogative of the alien himself. The border no longer exists.
The American legal tradition has until now assumed that it takes a congressional enactment or a judicial ruling to overturn a duly enacted law. With the ubiquitous chant, “No person is illegal,” first popularized by Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney, that tradition is over. Pace Cardinal Mahoney, under existing immigration law, a person may in fact be “illegal,” if he has broken into the country without permission or has overstayed his visa. Mahoney and the hordes who have taken up the “No person is illegal” slogan beg to differ. No law has the power to confer illegal status on an alien law-breaker, they say. Therefore, the existing laws are void, simply because the illegal aliens and their supporters do not like them, not because Congress has decided to withdraw them. This alleged power to overturn laws based on sheer presence is a remarkable new constitutional development.
Efforts to analogize the illegal-alien protests to the civil-rights movement are ludicrous. Blacks were demanding that state governments end the unlawful deprivation of rights that they already possessed under the Constitution, and for which the nation had fought a traumatic civil war. The illegals are claiming rights to which by law they have no right and for which they can make no legal argument whatsoever. If their movement succeeds, it will not be possible to deny any future rights claims in any sphere of life or activity…

[UPDATE: Rick Moran makes similar points here:

…a difference that the Open Borders crew refuses to acknowledge and, in fact, obfuscates in order to tag their opponents as heartless gorgons. It is the difference between those who endure the bureaucratic rigmarole and long waiting periods to legally enter this country and those who take the sometimes perilous but nevertheless easier way by sneaking across the border in defiance of the law.
In truth, this is the club used by the pro-illegal lobby to beat enforcement advocates over the head. By successfully blurring the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, they can portray those who support a rational immigration policy as ideological soul mates of the “Know Nothing” anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic party of the early 1850’s…
Almost 1 million people enter this country as legal immigrants every year…There are very, very few enforcement advocates who begrudge these potential citizens their rights under the law…most pro-enforcement advocates actually support increased legal immigration.
But you would never know this if the only information you received was from the pro-illegal groups. They have successfully portrayed the anti-illegal lobby as anti-immigration – both legal and illegal – as well as proponents of a draconian “round-up” of illegals that would tear families apart and turn the United States into a police state…
On the other hand, how often do you read about International ANSWER and how they have expropriated the reform movement for their own nefarious ends? Those May Day protests were largely organized by the communists in ANSWER while being opposed by more mainstream immigration groups. In fact, few pro-reform websites bothered to inform their readers of this very salient point.
We will not have meaningful immigration reform until we all agree that the United States is a sovereign country with recognizable borders that must be defended. That defense includes shutting the door on people who would break the law to come here. It is such a basic concept that it is mystifying why the pro-illegal lobby deliberately ignores it. At times, they seem almost embarrassed by the fact that the United States has a right to determine who comes here and who doesn’t as well as determining its own requirements for citizenship.
In the end, this is what “sovereignty” is all about; the belief that being born an American is a privilege beyond words and that becoming an American should also be a privilege, earned by a legal immigrant’s hard work, obedience of the law, and desire to be a part of this grand experiment in self-government.
Anything less and you cheapen the idea of citizenship for everyone.

There is another way to look at the immigration issues that is consistent with a love of liberty and a belief in self-government – both core American principles. Peter Schramm of the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs writes about this alternative view in describing his family’s immigration to the United States from Communist Hungary following the failed 1956 revolution in Born American, but in the Wrong Place:

…Now, with the revolution failing, came the final straw for my Dad…He came home and announced to my mother that that was it. He said he was going to leave the country…
“But where are we going?” [Peter Schramm] asked [his father].
“We are going to America,” my father said.
“Why America?” I prodded.
“Because, son. We were born Americans, but in the wrong place,” he replied.

My father said that as naturally as if I had asked him what was the color of the sky. It was so obvious to him why we should head for America. There was really no other option in his mind. What was obvious to him, unfortunately, took me nearly 20 years to learn. But then, I had to “un-learn” a lot of things along the way. How is it that this simple man who had none of the benefits or luxuries of freedom and so-called “education” understood this truth so deeply and so purely and expressed it so beautifully? It has something to do with the self-evidence, as Jefferson put it, of America’s principles. Of course, he hadn’t studied Jefferson or America’s Declaration of Independence, but he had come to know deep in his heart the meaning of tyranny. And he hungered for its opposite. The embodiment of those self-evident truths and of justice in America was an undeniable fact to souls suffering under oppression. And while a professor at Harvard might have scoffed at the idea of American justice in 1956 (or today, for that matter), my Dad would have scoffed at him. Such a person, Dad would say, had never suffered in a regime of true injustice. America represented to my Dad, as Lincoln put it, “the last, best hope of earth.”
I would like to be able to say that this made Dad a remarkable man for his time and his circumstance. For, in many ways, Dad truly is a wonder. But this is not one of them. He was not remarkable in this understanding. Everybody in Hungary, at least everybody who wasn’t a true believer in the Communists. thought that way…

Over the years I began to see the philosophical basis of this European way of thinking and why they disliked our ways. They attempted to prove that all philosophical questions and human life can be reduced to the deep Grundproblemen (fundamental problems) and then to nihilistic despair, because in becoming fully enlightened, the Europeans freed themselves from all illusions about good and evil, and right and wrong. But we Americans don’t think this, and we can’t feel the despair. How could we, we simple-minded and practical folk, understand the depth of the human condition? We Americans insist on holding to the connection between freedom and justice, courage and moderation. As a result, we can’t take the Europeans as seriously as they take themselves. We think that they are participants in a pseudo-sophisticated and endless coffee-house chatter leading nowhere except to the will to power and gulags and concentration camps. We, on the other hand, think that equality and liberty have ethical and political implications; we are willing to fight to make men free. We are still optimists…
So there I was in Claremont, studying these important things with all of these guys who seemed smarter than me. Then it hit me. Why had I put all of this effort into studying so much of European history and politics? There was nothing wrong with it, in itself. But these most important questions – What is freedom? What is justice? What is equality? – these were not answered in the history books I had been devouring. These were questions tackled by men like Jefferson, Madison, Washington and Lincoln and contemplated before by men like Plato, Aristotle, Locke, and many others. This is where I could get a true education. So I started anew…
I took classes on Plato’s Phaedo, the American Founding, Lincoln, and Shakespeare’s politics. I was no longer studying things out of historical curiosity, but, rather, looking into the very cause of things. Life seemed to be in full swing: trying to figure out Greek grammar in the morning, the idea of consent and equality in the afternoon, with maybe a little basketball in the evening. I started making friends with American minds, and American statesmen. No longer were they introduced to us students as personifications of the Marxist oberbau, or their teachings as the result of bad potty training. We met them on their own terms, let them persuade us, if they could, of their meaning and purposes, and we would talk with them. These conversations were on-going and fluid, never ending arguments with fine minds of men who acted well in the world. It was an intoxicating education, made ever more pleasant because it took place with friends. It was here that I met Tom Silver, Tom West, Jeff Wallin, Ken Masugi, Larry Arnn, and others, who were not only smart and hard working, but partisans of America and the things for which the country stood. We fed off one another’s hunger, cajoled one another, pushed one another, and always moved one another toward what was beautiful and good and true. It was here that I started understanding what my father had always understood. It was here that I began to see what it meant to try to establish a Novus Ordo Seclorum. I began to see that all governments previous to ours had been established on accident and force, and now these American Founders insisted on establishing one on universal principles applicable to all men at all times, one established on reflection and choice. In America, human beings could prove to the world that they had the capacity to govern themselves. The Founders, according to Lincoln, proclaimed equality and freedom to “the whole world of men.” It was here that I came to understand what Lincoln meant by the Declaration of Independence being the “electric cord” that linked all of us together, as though we were “blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh, of the men who wrote that Declaration.” This is what it meant to be an American, and it wasn�t all that far from being a man…
The United States was the first nation in the world to construct an elaborate system of public schools. All the founders understood that republican government demanded that the citizens be educated. Citizens have to choose their representatives wisely, they have to learn to become independent, to be able to earn a living. And they have to be taught self-control. They have to have the habits of mind and heart that are necessary for self-government. These native Americans need teachers. And I have become one of those teachers. Call it a repayment of a debt; call it honoring my father and mother for seeing things rightly and thereby giving me a chance to be in the right place and my children a chance to be born in the right place. Call it what you will. But what I do with these American natives is I teach them about American politics and American history. I start with a simple thing about their country and themselves. I tell them that they are the fortunate of the earth, among the blessed of all times and places. I tell them this as an obvious and an incontrovertible thing. And their blessing, their great good fortune, lies in the nation into which they were born. I tell them not only that their country, the United States of America, is the most powerful and the most prosperous country on earth, but also that it is the most free and the most just. Then I tell them how and why this is so. That is, I teach them about the principles from which these blessings of liberty flow. I invite them to consider whether they can have any greater honor than to pass undiminished to their children and their grandchildren this great inheritance of freedom. And then we talk for a few years about how they might best go about doing that. And this is the beginning and the end of what I have learned and of what I teach both as an American citizen and a human being.

There is something special and unique about America. As Schramm wrote in a recent cover letter:

We Americans – unlike citizens of other countries – need teachers to teach us what it means to be an American. We might be born here; we might technically be citizens; and, we may have had a sound upbringing in our families. Yet we need more.
We need to be reminded that this country was founded on the principles of liberty and right, on a solemn declaration that we ordinary human beings are capable of governing ourselves…

I hope the immigration debate can allow us to refocus on the true meaning of being an American citizen, thereby advancing the quality of our debate free of meaningless cliches and superficial commentary.
And I hope we will educate our children well about the uniqueness of America so they can grow up to become free citizens capable of self-government. If we fail, we risk turning America into another Europe.
The stakes in this immigration debate are enormous.

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Anchor Rising
18 years ago

The Declaration Of Independence & What It Means To Be An American Citizen

To lessen the lack of clarity in the immigration debate about what it means to be an American citizen, let’s go back to the first principles of the American Founding. The Claremont Institute has developed a web-based overview of the…

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