Some Ideas on Immigration Reform
David Segal believes that illegal immigrants in Rhode Island have come here for the same reason as other, previous immigrant groups: Flight from violence, and flight from destitution. I agree. Further, he attempts to knock-down our current immigration restrictions by reciting a brief history of immigration to the U.S.: the hurdles, the hardships, the “Know-nothings”, “no Irish need apply”, With Out Papers, etc. This is all in an attempt to persuade that we need a better immigration policy than what we have now: one that was conceived–he contends–out of hatred:
And so I ask myself, do I want to uphold this legacy? Do I want to put a “no immigrants need apply” sign on the state of Rhode Island — understanding that today’s undocumented immigrants would be here entirely legally if they had come under the same regulations that were in place when the bulk of the Germans and Irish came, and when the first southern and eastern Europeans came? Do I want to strengthen pernicious regulations, born of hatred of my ancestors, and those of so many of my friends and colleagues?
Hell. No. Let’s put an end to this terrible cycle. Let’s welcome our new neighbors with open arms — even the 2% of the population that’s here without papers. Let’s allow them to integrate, and allow them to work and to feed their families.
I’m also quite familiar with immigration history and I understand, though I don’t entirely agree, with his broad sentiment. I also can relate to the compassion he exhibits: having visited many countries in my time in the Merchant Marine, I have witnessed first hand the poverty and violence so many try to escape. It would be a cold soul who didn’t feel compassion for these human beings.
Unfortunately, no matter how much we might wish it so, we cannot harbor–or save–all of those in dire straits. And so, though some “pernicious regulations” were “born of hatred”, many–if not most–were put in place for the purpose of maintaining what was deemed to be the national interest. Segal is right in that call for immigration restrictions were often couched in the worst kind of xenophobic rhetoric, but that was a symptom of the fear that Americans had when it came to keeping their jobs. In the early twentieth century, as the need for primarily unskilled labor decreased, the call for restricting that flow of labor increased. And very often, it was the follow-on generation of previous immigrants who were afraid of losing their jobs to the new waves of immigrants reaching American shores. For instance, while many “Anglo’s” demeaned French-Canadians, the latter faced some of the stiffest resistance from 2nd or 3rd generation Irish who worked in the mills of New England.
I am sympathetic with Segal’s desire to help out those in need–America has always reached out a hand–but the bottom line is that we have laws restricting immigration for good reason. There is only so much we, as a nation, can bear. That these laws have been repeatedly ignored by illegal aliens and those elected and appointed to uphold them is a major reason so many Americans–including legal immigrants who followed the rules–are angry and distrustful of any call for reform. They don’t trust politicians and they don’t trust business and they don’t like rule-breakers. Their anger and fear can lead to hyperbole–including, perhaps, paranoia–but their reaction is often in response to those who recognize no rule, no border and will excuse those who enable breaking the rules. It offends the deep-seated sense of fair play held by Americans. When they hear “reform”, they think, “let them off the hook.”
Thus, the solution is not to ignore inconvenient rules, but to enforce them while seeking reform. That’s why tightening restrictions first is so important: it displays a good faith effort at comprehensive reform. And while it’s clear that we need immigration reform, it should be implemented with the best interest of the future of our country in mind. That’s not being “nationalistic” or xenophobic, it’s being responsible for current and future generations of Americans and fair to those who followed the rules as written, no matter how difficult or unfair.
So how do we get there? There can be no doubt that compromises will need to be made. There will always be naysayers, and no solution is perfect or will be the end-all, be-all. Yet, recent pieces by Gordon Crovitz, Michael Barone and Victor Davis Hansen all exhibit ideas that seem, if mixed and modified, could go towards what I think would be a broadly acceptable plan.
Crovitz’s call to increase the amount of skilled workers we allow into the country would provide a benefit to our nation and our economy. Crovitz also thinks we need more unskilled workers, but I don’t think he has a strong case to make, especially with today’s economy. Barone agrees with the skilled-worker idea–noting we could use the Canadian or Australian model–and thinks perhaps a guest-worker would be acceptable to a majority of people. Hansen would allow for a path to citizenship, too.
[W]e say to the illegal alien: if you are working, if you have not committed a crime after arriving here illegally, and if you are willing to stay in a country that makes no special allowances for those who speak languages other than English or who claim some privileged ethnic heritage, then, yes, you can find a path to citizenship involving fines for your initial crime of breaking the law, and necessary background checks and testing of basic acquaintance with American citizenship.
Following such a path would help convince most Americans that illegal immigrants truly want–to use Segal’s term–to “integrate.”
Those who come to America to escape hardship should recognize that living in America is a privilege. As an American, they will enjoy all of the rights of a citizen, but they also must be made aware that there are duties and responsibilities that come with citizenship. That means we should expect them to obey the law, learn our culture, work hard, participate in the political process, and pay taxes. (Yes, I realize that many Americans who were lucky enough to be born here ignore some or all of these expectations: but it doesn’t logically follow, ie; “you’re being hypocritical,” that we should make the same allowances–or mistakes–when it comes to new citizens). I think most immigrants would readily accept these expectations–these conditions–if it means the chance at a better life. We just have to require it of them.
Finally, learning the American culture does not mean we expect immigrants to forget their own or that their heritage is second class. However, none should forget that it is American culture that lay at the heart of this nation of opportunity. I agree that immigrants should be integrated into our country, but it is incumbent upon them to prove that they actually want to be integrated.