I’m the sort of person who feels inspired by phrases like “rule of law.” So it may seem odd that I’m turned off by the wing of Republicans who oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants as a matter of principle. Illegal immigrants are criminals, they say. Four million people are waiting patiently at our nation’s front door, they argue, and we don’t have the moral courage to kick out the 11 million schmucks who snuck in the back! What about justice?!
The problem with this argument is that immigration’s not about justice. Throughout time people have migrated around the planet not because they were moral or immoral, but because humans are like cattle: they go where the grass is greenest. I’m reminded of those who question whether our European forefathers were morally right to settle lands that first belonged to the American Indians. In our gut we all know this is a ridiculous question. It wasn’t right or wrong. It was inevitable. The opportunities were enormous, and the American Indians couldn’t stop them.
So when we talk about the northward migration of millions of Hispanics, we must keep in mind the giant economic forces at play, compared to which politicians and their laws are puny players. Our nation’s reputation for freedom and prosperity has created a human river flowing to our borders from regions of poverty and unrest. This flow can be managed but not erased (not so long as we are free and prosperous), and thus, as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services explains on its site, “severely restricting immigration often results in increased illegal immigration.”
If we, as a nation, were determined to dam the Mexico border crossing, of course we could do so. Imagine Mexico and the United States going to war—we would seal the border in a matter of hours. To build and maintain a sufficient barrier, though, would be enormously expensive. We don’t have the political will to make that investment. This is because our 11 million illegal neighbors aren’t actually a problem. Their longtime presence here has proven there’s room for them in our pasture, way more room than our immigration policies suggest.
This isn’t to say our Mexican border is adequately managed. No one knows for sure how many people are coming from Mexico into the U.S. illegally, but it’s thought to be in the hundreds of thousands per year. Clearly, this is a national security problem. I believe an essential part of the solution is allowing many more people to come here lawfully, especially on temporary work visas. Regular people are willing to stand in line and answer questions in order to enter a new country. Let’s give them that opportunity so Border Patrolman don’t have to chase them down in the desert. Let the Border Patrol save its resources for capturing the bad apples.
As for those undocumented immigrants already here, we have three choices: 1) continue having a huge underclass that is vulnerable to abuse, is not paying taxes, and is not fully able to participate in our economy, politics and community life; 2) spend billions to forcibly remove them; or 3) offer legal status. The first choice is not working. We have a schizophrenic system that gives citizenship to children–including world-class education and healthcare–whose parents are not supposed to even be here, let alone work. The first choice is also not in keeping with our faith in liberty and justice for all. The second choice, deportation, is unpopular and inhumane. And so we come to the last choice: amnesty.
Some call amnesty justice. Some call it mercy. I call it our only viable choice.
Hispanic immigrants are changing the economy, culture and politics of their new home, just as all immigrants do. This, of course, causes some grumbling among those who dislike change. That’s life. Let’s not be petty. And let’s remember that they’re doing some necessary things we U.S. citizens have forgotten how to do, namely picking fruit and making babies. As a fan of both fruit and babies, I’m grateful they’re here. I’m glad to offer them citizenship.
If Republicans insist on making this debate a morality play, they will be playing the part of Javert, the policeman in Les Miserables. Javert spends his life tracking down Valjean to bring him to justice for stealing a loaf of bread. In the closing scenes, the selfless Valjean offers his very life for the sake of his loved ones while Javert, tormented by the conflict between law and mercy, throws himself into the river. Like Valjean, Hispanic immigrants are sacrificing for the sake of their children. Meanwhile, anti-amnesty Republicans, with their devotion to the letter of the law, are leading the party toward suicide.