At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture


Toward an Honest Discussion of Immigration

posted by Jack Kerwick

Among the huge issues with which our nation has to grapple, that of immigration is as huge as any of them.  Yet this has become an increasingly difficult task as fiction has eclipsed fact. So as to make some headway on this score, I seek here to sort out the myths from the truths.

Fiction #1: Immigration is a normative concept.  The assumption seems to be that all things being equal, immigration is a moral good, something that we ought to promote and that only a reprobate could reject.  It is this assumption that accounts for why “conservative” critics of amnesty invariably insist that they are all in favor of legal immigration.  And it is this assumption that underlies the oft-repeated slogan that America is “a nation of immigrants.”

Fact: Of course, the truth of the matter is that immigration is as morally-neutral a concept as are the concepts of bleeding and moving.  Bleeding and moving, taken by themselves, are neither morally good nor morally bad.  The same is the case with immigration.  It is circumstances, context, that invest these activities with moral worth.

Fiction #2: America is “a nation of immigrants.”

Fact: Those who created America were not “immigrants”; they were settlers.  There is as much of a difference between a settler of a land and those who emigrate to it as there is a difference between one who founds a company and those who invest in it once the founder takes his company public.

Just as, say, there was no Microsoft to invest in until after Bill Gates founded it, there was no America for anyone to emigrate to until after the English colonists settled it.

Fact: But let’s suppose that it is correct that America is a so-called nation of immigrants.  So what?  That America has always been a certain way in the past does not mean that it should continue upon that course in the future.  Unsurprisingly, in other contexts everyone seems to grasp this principle.

For example, no amnesty enthusiast would endorse the argument that we ought to insure that white Christians remain the dominant demographic group in America because America has always been “a nation of (mostly) white Christians.” And no one would contend that because America was originally a nation of lots of white slaveholders that we should see to it that it become so once again.

Fiction #3: Since most of us wouldn’t be in America if not for the fact that our ancestors came here, it is incumbent upon us to support immigration now.  This reasoning takes the form: “I am the product of immigration.  Therefore, I support immigration.”  People like talk radio and Fox News host Sean Hannity never tire of making this argument.

Fact: To see what a terrible argument it is, consider it in light of another: “I am the product of a one night sexual encounter between two intoxicated strangers.  Therefore, I support one night stands between drunken strangers.”  Even more illustrative of the silliness of this reasoning is this piece of illogic: “I am the product of rape. Hence, I support rape.”

In reality, most of us are the offspring of, not immigrants, but Americans.  Hannity’s grandparents were immigrants, as were my great grandparents.  But his parents, like mine, were born and bred in America.

Fiction #4: Since the vast majority of contemporary immigrants are Hispanic, opposition to contemporary immigration policy stems from “racism” toward Hispanics.

Fact: This isn’t true, but even if it was, we are once again left asking: And…?  The citizenry of a sovereign nation has the right to select for itself that immigration policy that it believes best serves the interests of its country.   This policy in turn may be a policy of no immigration, or it may be a policy of massive immigration.  It may permit only immigrants from Sweden, or only those from Africa.  Americans don’t owe anyone who isn’t already a citizen the rights and duties of American citizenship.

Fact: Current levels of immigration would be just as undesirable as they presently are even if all of our immigrants hailed from Sweden: there are simply too many people that have come to America legally and illegally.  However, in truth, most of our immigrants are low skilled workers who hail from largely dysfunctional third world countries.

The out-of-wedlock birthrate among Hispanics exceeds that of American whites and blacks.  High school drop-out and gang membership rates are also higher among Hispanics than among whites and blacks.

This judgment isn’t rooted in “racism.” It is rooted in reality.

If we are going to have a productive immigration policy, we need first to speak honestly about immigration.



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