by Ken Gorrell,
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A Pakistani and an Afghani walk into a bar…Oh, wait, not a bar, a US/Mexico border checkpoint. No, wait: They simply walked into the United States at an unguarded section of our southern border…and now the joke isn’t so funny.
In fact, it’s deadly serious. As the Washington Times reported on June 3rd, five Pakistanis and an Afghani, aided by Brazilian and Mexican smugglers, made it 15 miles into our country before being caught by Border Patrol agents. One might ask why the agents even bothered. Though these foreign men entered our country illegally, and the Afghani was flagged in an FBI terrorist database, they all made asylum claims. The Afghan man was held, but the five men from Pakistan were released. Will it surprise you to learn that they have since disappeared?
News stories like this help to fuel our unhealthy debate on immigration policy. Competing interest groups, disinformation, emotion — and of course, the national security angle — all conspire to hinder open and rational dialog. Add in the usual election-year posturing, and it seems unlikely that we’ll resolve the issue to anyone’s satisfaction until voters send a clear message to Washington. Which is to say, not anytime soon.
We all learned in school that we’re a nation of immigrants, and to an extent it’s true. But the trouble with the “nation of immigrants” mantra is that it glosses over the historical record, failing to account for the unique circumstances that drove immigration policy since the Founding. Talking about historical nuances during heated election year debates can seem like bringing the proverbial knife to a gun fight, yet historical perspective is exactly what we need.
In a 2013 article for the Migration Policy Institute, authors Faye Hipsman and Doris Meissner remind us that:
“Although immigration has occurred throughout American history, large-scale immigration has occurred during just four peak periods: the peopling of the original colonies, westward expansion during the middle of the 19th century, and the rise of cities at the turn of the 20th century. The fourth peak period began in the 1970s and continues today.”
One of these things is not like the others. The first three “peak periods” for immigration occurred during a time of physical expansion. The nation’s physical boundaries were extending westward from the Atlantic coast and our cities were growing upward and outward. The fourth period is marked by a maturing of labor-intensive industries, increased productivity from a smaller workforce, fewer opportunities for the typically lower-skilled abilities of immigrants, and the shrinking of many of our formerly vibrant industrial centers.
The other big differences are that there was no welfare state during the first three periods, and the security threats came mostly from foreign militaries, not a global network of terrorist organizations. So, yes, we are a nation of immigrants. But, yes, times change.
Hipsman and Meissner acknowledge that the “United States adjusts its immigration policies only rarely, largely because the politics surrounding immigration can be deeply divisive” and that “immigration policy has often been increasingly disconnected from the economic and social forces that drive immigration.” It’s time to reconnect immigration policy to economic and social forces, and to the changing nature of our national security threat.
For much of our history we didn’t have a formal immigration program. Federal oversight of immigration began with the 1882 Immigration Act, which focused on two things: creating revenue and keeping out undesirables. The Act required that non-citizens arriving on our shores pay a fee earmarked to cover the costs of regulating immigration. It also required that each immigrant be examined and that “If on such examination there shall be found among such passengers any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of him or herself without becoming a public charge, they shall report the same in writing to the collector of such port, and such person shall not be permitted to land.”
Contrast that with our current policy of helping new immigrants receive public assistance for housing, food, medical care, and education, or the policy of allowing illegal aliens with criminal records to roam our streets even after being picked up for committing additional crimes against U.S. citizens. Our immigration policy now actively promotes bringing foreigners to our cities and towns who are “unable to take care of him or herself without becoming a public charge” and largely ignoring the threat posed by foreign criminals.
Legal and illegal immigration are creating stresses in our society that could lead to fractures if not dealt with in a way that seems not just fair and equitable to a majority of Americans, but legal as well. The problem is that the issue of immigration is inextricably bound to politics. It’s not a coincidence that the political party that supports increased immigration and an easy path to citizenship is also the party that benefits from the voting habits of immigrant-heavy minority populations. That these same populations tend to support increasing the welfare state and government direction of the economy, in line with Democrat’s legislative efforts, is also not coincidental.
The path to resolution starts with answering a simple question: “How does this policy benefit America?” Parochial interests, political gamesmanship, and an emotional reading of history won’t cut it.
Ken can be reached at email@example.com