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.

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13 years ago

“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.”
Following Segal’s reasoning, given that the US cannot accommodate all those in other countries who live in poverty and deal with daily violence, the best solution, and one typical of American generosity, would be to change the way those countries are governed. By force, if necessary, thereby helping to raise the standard of living and quell the violence there, making that country a better place to live, so that the population no longer needs or wants to emigrate.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
13 years ago

I spoke with Segal last year on this issue and he seems to harbor some ideas that had currency with radicals of my parents’generation,i.e.that the USA through the United Fruit Company(Eric Holder’s last employer)was responsible for economic disaster and and dictatorships in Central America,starting with the CIA’s overthrow of the Arbenz regime in Guatemala(they always use the term “duly elected”)and going forward from there.
Okay,we sandbagged Arbenz-he was a communist and we were playing hardball with the Soviets.No apology needed,ever.
Segal just doesn’t understand reality-he lives in some other continuum.
he doesn’t seem to have employment outside the legislature,and no dependents.
He might try taking a hands on course in real life for a few years and then reporting back.
I’m not trashing the guy-I doubt he has a mean bone in his body-he just needs to get real.
Uncontrolled traffic of people over our borders and back and no followup on visa entrants cannot have a good result.

13 years ago

The problem with simple answers like Segal’s is that they don’t deal with the basic conflict that led to the second-best immigration policy we’ve adopted; the more generous a government is with the services it provides, the less tolerant it becomes of immigrants. The weaker the social services, the easier it is to allow the free movement of people. This isn’t something that you can wave your hand at and make go away, this is a fundamental inconsistency that is supported by both economic and political realities (even immigrants find themselves unwilling to support unrestricted immigration once they are invested in the system).
The only solution is to have some level of parity between the social services offered between the countries sharing population; that way no one feels that they are being taken advantage of. This is what we have between the states, more or less, which allows for internal migration without many problems. Expanding that internationally is much more difficult, unless one is willing to cut back services here (and I think Segal would balk at the suggestion).

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

>>The only solution is to have some level of parity between the social services offered between the countries sharing population; that way no one feels that they are being taken advantage of
Ditto between states. Rhode Island’s “benefits” should be no higher than federal minimums so that we’re no longer a welfare magnet and so at an economic disadvantage compared to other states.
Along similar lines, Milton Friedman observed that one can have a welfare system, or open borders, but no both.
Common sense that eludes elected officials of both parties, who seek to pander to a demographic group using our money and at the expense of the long term prosperity of our country.

13 years ago

You know what really irks the crap out of me when it comes to being compassionate to other countries?
How the heck can anyone think that the United States was discovered with a fully functioning government, a fully functioning monetary system, a fully function trade system? What do these ‘pity party politicians’ think? This was all here and we were born into it?
Our country is less than 240 years old and you get some stinkholes like Mexico and other parts south that have been in existence for thousands of years!
Do you want to be sympathetic to other countries? Give to the Maryknoll Missions, Doctors without Borders, your Catholic Charity Relief Fund.
But don’t be giving away my country to some slimeballs who have no intentions of assimilating and observing our immigration laws.
Stand at the border, locked and loaded….

13 years ago

“I in my own mind have thought of America as a place in the scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land. It was set here and the price of admission is simple: the means of selection was very simple as to how this land should be populated. Any person in the world and any person from those places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up their roots, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel halway across the world was welcome here.”
“open borders” are not the problem. As said, the attractiveness of our welfare system and social services in conjunction with open borders are. Unfortunately, social services – mostly unionized and easily promoted to sympathetic Americans – are here to stay.
The quote is by Reagan if you didn’t know…

13 years ago

Very well said! You hit the nail on the head.

Delaware Bob
Delaware Bob
12 years ago

Our Federal Government has left us down big time on this invasion of the ILLEGAL ALIENS. They are destroying this Country, and if you can’t see that, then please get your eyes examined. Look at our economy, our schools, our jails, the rape of the American taxpayers. America has become the dumping ground for all the ILLEGAL ALIEN children, and all at the taxpayer’s expense, may I add. How many ILLEGAL ALIENS are in public housing, like obama’s aunt?, again, at taxpayers expense.
It’s time for ZERO TOLERENCE with these ILLEGAL ALIENS. It’s time for them to get back to their own country where they belong. If they want to become part of this Country, let them do it LEGALLY and wait in line like the millions of others are waiting.
When we get rid of the ILLEGAL ALIENS, we get rid of all the problems that go with them.

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