Monday, February 20, 2006

There’s Immigrants and There’s Immigrants

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One area where President Bush is admittedly weak with his base, is the issue of Illegal Immigration (the capital letters let you know it’s important). Many conservatives are unhappy, verging on outrage, that Bush has not proposed a plan to eliminate illegal entry into the United States, and to raise the issue of Border Security to a higher alert status, as it were. The problem I have with that criticism, is that it doesn’t offer much of a comprehensive alternative to the Bush plan, and it doesn’t address the concrete steps the Bush plan will take to focus DHS attention on the truly dangerous criminals and likely allies to terrorists. It also fails to address a significant political reality.

This morning I had the pleasure to hear Stephen Moore discuss President Bush’s proposal with William Bennett on “Morning in America”. Mr. Moore, no cheerleader for the White House, was quick to point out just what I have been saying all along, and to add a question he asked his own parents, when they objected to the way new citizens come to America. ‘Why don’t they come here legally, the way our ancestors did?’ Moore says his parents demanded. ‘How sure are you that they did come here legally?’ countered Moore, reminding Dr. Bennett that the immigration and entry laws of the United States have varied widely over the years, and many now-respectable families started out by skirting the law to some extent. At one time or another, immigration was severely restricted or even illegal for such groups as Chinese, Catholics, Jews, Irish, Africans, and religious minorities. And social attitudes were only recently broadened to allow employment and education to all citizens. My own father told me tales about Philadelphia businesses which would neither hire nor serve blacks, Jews, or Irish. So it should not surprise people to discover that U.S. law was capricious in its treatment of people wishing to enter the country, and more than a few who live here permanently had to bend rules to do so. It hardly means I am excusing illegal entry, but we should be careful to understand that the United States has never yet practiced a consistent immigration system. Until the past century, immigrants, whether legal or not were considered as a group to be valuable to the economy and no threat to the government. While certain groups have been considered undesirable, like the ban on Asian immigration enacted by Teddy Roosevelt’s Administration (note that the ban was not especially effective), and the restrictions imposed during World War 1 and World War 2 set the tone for not only necessary security actions, but also perjorative social engineering.

I have written on this issue before, and now as then I will doubtless find few enough minds open to the need to begin ab initio in developing a comprehensive and fungible policy for immigration, otherwise whatever is decided now will simply create a new set of problems in the years to come.

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