“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you’” (Gen. 12: 1).
There has been much talk lately about immigration reform. With Hispanics a steadily growing segment of the American population, there is political capital at stake. That has made for histrionic rhetoric. Xenophobia – often thinly disguised racism, as much as fear – has further enflamed the discourse.
Some argue in favor of a new path to citizenship for those already resident in the United State, but illegally so. The conditions floated for this new path include payment of a fine, repayment of taxes owed (assuming that taxes on years of “off the books” employment can even be calculated), and mandatory fluency in English.
Clearly, these conditions have little basis in reality. They are intended to mollify those demanding red meat in the form of immediate deportation of all illegal aliens (by whatever means necessary, at whatever cost, and regardless of hardship).
While illegal immigrants and their families potentially benefit from public education and medical care toward which their tax dollars did not contribute, they do contribute their labor to the economy (often by way of backbreaking drudgery it is convenient to ignore).
What both sides choose to overlook in the immigration debate is the complicity of employers willing to hire undocumented workers glad to accept less than minimum wage. Penalizing employers sufficiently to make this option unattractive to them would instantly do away with the major appeal of our economy to illegal aliens. No jobs; no immigrants.
True, the availability of United States citizenship to children born in this country, regardless of the legal status of their parents, would remain a draw.
These realities do not address the larger issues underlying the immigration debate.
Here are just a few:
- What obligation, if any, do we as the most prosperous and powerful nation on earth have toward other nations, insofar as immigration? Are economic difficulties in other nations a form of emergency we should recognize, justifying an immigration fast track? How do we strike a balance between protecting ourselves and our economy, while responding to humanitarian need?
- Should nations with contiguous borders with ours and good relations with us, i.e. Canada and Mexico, have a special status, insofar as immigration?
- Do we have an obligation toward illegal aliens already resident here? How do we reconcile amnesty (by whatever name) for illegal aliens with the standards and waiting periods to which legal immigrants must adhere?
- If farm workers, in particular, are uniformly paid the legally mandated minimum, will the agricultural industry collapse, and the cost of food become prohibitive, as some claim?
We are an immigrant nation. We have drawn our strength and vitality from diversity. The Irish were once maligned and mistreated, as were the Italians. The Japanese were viewed with suspicion, exploited, and interned. The list goes on. Yet to suggest today that any of these groups are un-American would be ludicrous.
Differences have enriched, rather than weakened us. The challenge now is to preserve that tradition.
Any views expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Pro Deo or its other contributors.