The most popular diversionary tactic employed by those who support or excuse the influx of illegal immigrants into the United States is the claim that “we are a nation of immigrants”. While this is certainly true is a rather limited sense, this claim confuses the issue by implicitly associating past immigration with the types of levels of immigration we have seen in the early 21st century. Simply put, there are more immigrants living in the United States than ever before, and the majority of these immigrants came here illegally.
To say that an immigrant is illegal is not to employ a standard that did not exist prior to the recent influx from Mexico, as some critics assert. Indeed, there has always been a legal route to immigration. There still is. Therefore, to call certain types of immigration illegal is legally and historically sound. Legal immigration is one of the great strengths of this country. For a variety of reasons, countless millions of people would like to immigrate to the United States if they had the means and the opportunity.
For this reason alone, it is totally unfair to allow millions of immigrants to circumvent the legal process while so many law-abiding would-be immigrants are essentially left waiting in line. The history of immigration in the United States, until quite recently, has been the history of legal immigration. The character of this immigration has shifted as the values of the country at large have done the same. In 1965, 89% of Americans were of European descent. African-Americans accounted for 10% of the population.
The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act sought to atone for the blatant racism of prior immigration policy, the most blatant example of which was the Chinese Exclusion Act of the late 19th century. The practical impact of the 1965 reform was that the influx of immigrants, of legal immigrants, was immeasurably more diverse than previous waves of new Americans. American society as a whole, forty years later, looks much more like the “melting pot” of American myth than ever before.
Guaranteeing a greater diversity among legal immigrants, however, must be distinguished from the process of allowing huge number of people to illegally enter the country. The United States should strive for a greater diversity among its population, perhaps, but it should not do so by refusing to enforce its own borders. Immigration must be a legal process. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, the principle of the rule of law is the foundation of any democratic country, especially an increasingly diverse one such as ours. When common ethnicity and heritage do not bind us together, the law must do so.
When the government simply refuses to enforce its own laws, regardless of what those laws may be, the underpinnings of liberal society are endangered. Changing laws or passing new laws is an option. Blatantly ignoring existing laws is not. It is illegal for immigrants who have not gone through legal channels to work in this country. When the government allows employers to disregard these laws en masse, the government’s authority is weakened in the eyes of the citizens. This is what democracies must avoid. The second pressing issue is the collective health of the society.
The legal immigration process, as embodied at Ellis Island for example, enabled the government to ensure that immigrants did not have communicable diseases or serious criminal records. If they did, they were sent back. This is not because the United States was heartless, but because it was wise; it is a disservice to the society as a whole to knowingly allow disease and crime into your country. The massive influxes of immigrants who come from Mexico go through no legal channels. Among the masses of decent, hard-working people seeking to improve the lives of their families are the inevitable murderers, rapists, and, perhaps, terrorists.
Also among them are diseases that were eradicated from the United States decades ago. The immigration policy of 21st century America must have two focal points. Firstly, illegal immigration must be understood as a crime which deprives legal immigrants of their chance to join our society. Secondly, illegal immigrants must never be blamed for coming to the United States. Anyone in their position would do the same if they felt they could help their families by doing so; these are brave and devoted people. American businesses, rather, must be the focus of our policy as we move forward.
Business owners who hire illegals must be subjected to extremely harsh punishments that serve as effective deterrents. Real prison time and confiscatory fines must be mandatory. We have an obligation to welcome as many people as we can from less fortunate corners of the world. While showing this compassion, however, we must keep in mind that if we allow anyone who can physically get here to stay and work here without consequence, this will eventually become a country to which people no longer want to immigrate.