No One Is Illegal

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I don’t usually talk about immigration, or write about immigration, or even think about immigration. But since so many people have been discussing it lately, and since people I respect have spoken out on the wrong side of the issue, I thought I’d share my two cents.

I’d like to start this discussion by sharing a quote from “The New Colossus,” a poem that is inscribed on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As Lady Liberty herself attests, this is the attitude toward immigration that characterizes a free society.

I believe in freedom of movement, including (but not limited to) freedom of immigration and emigration. In other words, I believe that anyone who wants to travel into (or out of) the United States of America should be allowed to do so, and anyone who wants to move here permanently (or move away permanently) should also be allowed to do so.

In my mind, the above paragraph is so simple and straightforward that even a small child should understand that this is what it means to live in a free society. However, millions of Americans seem to disagree with this perspective, including some very intelligent and well-spoken individuals who have unfortunately bought into the anti-immigration rhetoric. Therefore, I would like to present counter-arguments to some of the most common arguments against freedom of movement.

First of all, I reject all openly racist arguments against freedom of movement. If you think that “white people” are superior to “non-whites,” and that we need to secure our borders so that the “colored people” don’t come in, then I have little hope of holding an intellectual discussion with you. Either remove yourself from the gene pool or come back to me when you’ve spent some time with a therapist and are ready to have a meaningful political discussion.

Now, to address some of the more sane (but still incorrect) arguments against freedom of movement.

Some people oppose “illegal immigrants” because these immigrants have broken the law. Yes, it’s true; people who have entered the country illegally have broken immigration laws. And I can understand why you’re upset about someone breaking a law. But the bigger question is this: why does that law exist in the first place?

In a free society, the question is not only whether or not a law has been broken, but also whether or not a law is just. In this case, the law is unjust. If a law is unjust, rather than arresting the people who break it, we should change the law.

Did you know that there is a limit on how many people are allowed to immigrate legally into the U.S.? I was shocked when I learned this fact a few years ago. We used to have specific immigration quotas based on nation of origin, but now we have broader quotas based on Eastern versus Western hemisphere.

Why do we have these quotas? The chief arguments I’ve heard in favor of these quotas are economics and cultural stability. If we let in more people, they will take “our” jobs, and they will flood “our” nation with languages, religions, and cultures that are foreign to us.

I can understand people’s economic fears, especially in the midst of a recession. I’m near the bottom of the economic ladder right now, and I don’t suspect a flood of immigrants will improve my prospects for more gainful employment. And I can understand people’s cultural fears, especially if they’ve grown up in a fairly uniform cultural setting in a small town or suburb. All that they know about people from other nations is stereotypes, and stereotypes fail to capture the rich cross-pollination of cultures that can occur in a diverse and inclusive society.

But should we really be acting on the basis of fear? Or should we be acting on the basis of our commitment to freedom and democracy?

If you want to have people pass through some sort of security screening as they enter or leave the country, that’s fine. I can see a point to that as long as it’s done as respectfully and non-intrusively as possible. Different countries have different laws, and different capacities to enforce their laws, so I can see why we would want to be sure that no known criminals or terrorists enter the country. I can even see a point to adopting a slower and more rigorous screening process for travel to and from nations like Iraq and Afghanistan where we are currently engaged in armed conflict.

But some of you want to limit the number of Mexicans (or Asians, or Indians, or Africans, or others) coming into the country simply because you’re afraid that they’ll take your jobs and flood your communities with their language and culture.

To this, I say: seriously? You’re seriously willing to throw away our cherished principles of freedom simply because you’re afraid that “foreigners” will take your job, or speak strange languages around you, or bring ideas into your community that weren’t there before?

If that’s how little you cherish freedom, then you may want to consider moving to a country that shares your narrow-minded views. Good luck with that, though, since their immigration policies will be stricter than ours.

This debate worries me, perhaps even more so than the health care debate or the climate change debate. It worries me because it says something profoundly disturbing about our nation’s understanding of freedom, and our level of commitment to freedom. People in this country like to speak loudly about freedom, but when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is, far too many of them balk at the opportunity.

In a truly free society, it wouldn’t even occur to us to establish these quotas on the number of people who can enter and leave our nation. We would be committed to the principle that our choice to move freely from one public place to another is an innate human right inalienable by any law or government. Even the most congenial of border security screenings would be conducted with the heaviest of hearts because we would know in our hearts that people who have committed no crime should be free to come and go as they please. There would be great debate about the very concept of border checkpoints, and whether or not they were acceptable at all in a free society, even for the sake of security.

Instead, we have a new law in Arizona stating that people who look “suspicious” can be stopped and asked for their “papers.” We have bizarre, manic, grandiose proposals to build thousands of miles of security fencing along our southern border. We have protracted debates about immigration — not about the absurdity and inhumanity of our immigration quotas, but about what we can do to enforce them more stringently and punish offenders more thoroughly.

This is madness! Simply madness.

The only aspect of this whole debate that keeps me sane is that there are fortunately at least some people who also recognize the importance of freedom of movement as one of the basic foundations of a free society. There are many people who have condemned the recent Arizona ruling. There are also many “sanctuary cities” that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to inquire about or arrest so-called “illegal immigrants.” But the people who favor draconian immigration policies are speaking loudly, and spending heavily, and pushing to sway otherwise decent Americans into supporting their anti-immigrant, anti-American, anti-freedom cause.

This issue has been simmering for a long time, and the recent Arizona legislation has turned up the heat. If you disagree with what I’ve said here, I’m willing to explain the points I’ve made and listen to any counter-points you’d like to offer. But if you agree with me, I urge you to speak up on the issue and take action on the issue. Otherwise, people around you may assume that the loud and rowdy anti-immigration crowd are the only people who have anything to say on the issue.

They’re not the only ones who have a voice. We have a voice, and our voice cries out the name of Freedom. In the name of Freedom for one and all, I would like to draw this entry to a close by once again sharing these famous words from the heart of Lady Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

About

My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois where I write books and volunteer for the Illinois Initiative and Gaia House.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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