THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN “IMMIGRANT” AND “LEGAL IMMIGRANT” IS A FALSE ONE

Immigrants

^ my future fellow Americans — and yours

—- —- —-

You will hear plenty of people who oppose the resolving of undocumented immigrants’ status, saying “I like legal immigration.” As if to make a distinction between how one immigrant got here as opposed to another. I find the distinction disingenuous.

Or, the people who say “legal immigration” will tell me “we must obey the rule of law.” As if laws are perforce always right and never unjust. I say “unjust,” because laws arise from what is just. At least in a democracy they do. On this point, Jeb Bush had it right when he said, about undocumented immigrants, “they didn’t come here to break a law, they broke a law to come here.”

The very definition of America is immigration. Except for Indians, we’re all of immigrant descent; and even the various tribes of Indians came here from elsewhere, albeit thousands of years ago. Immigration is how America gathers itself. No distinction is made, in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, of origin, or faith, or nationality, or language. Any attempt to prefer one sort of immigrant to another is an innovation. It is not part of the national mission.

Mitt Romney has said it well : “every religion enhances the national character.” I would add, ‘every origin of immigrant enhances the national character.”

Congress has, from time to time, enacted laws that prejudice one sort of immigrant in favor of another. I find these laws specious. If our Constitution extends equal protection of the laws to all, and rights of due process, how can an immigration law treat potential immigrants unequally ? You can answer that immigrants don’t possess such rights until they are admitted, but that is to invert the Constitution. How can an immigrant get admitted to equal protection if he or she is denied equal protection before the fact ?

These Constitutional arguments avoid a deeper objection to what people mean by “legal immigration.” Most who use that phrase argumentatively disfavor immigrants from “shithole countries,” as our President termed it, or who are of color and don’t speak English — as if English were entitled to unequal protection of the law over other languages. That immigrants bring with them cultural customs that most of us are unused to, or uncomfortable with, is  no argument against them; because the promise of America is to make immigrants comfortable — and welcome — in the nation. Many who feel uncomfortable about immigrants’ customs talk about “assimilation,” as if immigrants don’t want to “be American.” This is false. I have witnessed, in my long life, many brands of immigrant move from complete un-assimilation to complete assimilation in three generations. How can it be otherwise ? Those who grow up; in a culture are part of it.

In any case, the nation belongs to those who live in it and to those who will live in it in the future; and if the language or customs of that future are different from what we are normed for, so be it; we do not own the nation, it is not our private property : we only tenant it; we shepherd it forward.

Those who use the term “legal immigration” do imply such a property interest in the nation — as if our cities and countryside belonged to us by deed and “illegal immigration” were a kind of  “keep off the grass” sign, or a “no trespassing,” not to mention a “violators will be prosecuted.”

No such property interest in the nation inures to anyone.

So much for the moral and inspirational bases of immigration justice. There’s also the economic argument : every immigrant is a customer. The more customers a business has, the more it grows. Immigration is bullish. Immigrants not only spend money, they also create it. More businesses are started by immigrants than by those who are born here. Jeb Bush made an economic argument for immigration as well as a moral one : because immigrants have a much younger demographic, they bolster the solvency of Social Security and Medicaid.

Given all of the above, it is imperative that we move past the hatred of immigrants that has poisoned our current politics. The national mission insists on it, the economy benefits from it, and immigrant customs enhance the national character. Arguments to the contrary are self defeating at best, destructive at worst. Hopefully a new Congress, and in 2020 a new President, will grant DACA folks pathways to citizenship, make permanent the temporary status of so many “TPS” immigrants, welcome refugees, grant automatic citizenship to combat veterans, and in general resolve the angry conundra that have pushed our nation off its rails of destiny.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

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