Monday, May 3, 2010

We The (Legal American) People...

There exists the American mythos that the United States is a nation of immigrants, openly welcoming “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” Half of that idea is true – we are a nation of immigrants, at least as far as the non-indigenous are concerned. Openly welcoming new ones though? Hardly the case, if history is any blueprint. Over the past two centuries, all kinds of laws, regulations, restrictions and quotas have been utilized to limit the downtrodden, and even the privileged, immigrant to our shores – and these measures were geared toward those legally entering the country and seeking citizenship. As with any course of action, the effectiveness, not to mention the ethics, of these efforts brought both positive and negative results. [For more on this, read Roger Daniels’ fantastic history, Guarding the Golden Door:  American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882.]

As for illegal immigration, the issue has been a major one for over a century. Multitudes of lawmakers, lobbyists and citizens groups have campaigned for stricter enforcement, ever since the passage of the Page Act in 1875. Why, then, the shock and outrage regarding Arizona’s newly adopted legislation, “Safe Neighborhoods, Immigration, Law Enforcement”? After all, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (U.S. Code, Title 8) requires “every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him.” Thus, the law simply reiterates and enforces what federal law should already be doing, and what proponents of immigration reform have been advocating for years. According to the Department of Homeland Security report on illegal immigrants, Mexicans represented 62% of the unauthorized population in 2009. Further, the Mexican-born illegal population increased 42% over the last decade, followed  by Honduras and Guatemala. Is that profiling, or enforcement of the law?

Consequentially, a national issue has been forced upon local and state officials to act due to the inaction of the federal government to enforce the law. Clearly, the States are sending a message to Washington that it is beyond time to address the issue, rather than yet again turning a blind eye and letting it fester until too late. As usual though, the messenger is killed for delivering the message. Of course, Arizona is not alone, or even the first, to enact state-level immigration reform, nor undoubtedly will it be the last:

Number Of State-Level Immigration Laws Is Growing

Arizona’s Immigration Law Spurs Copycat Legislation

Founding Father Ben Franklin said, “there is no kind of dishonesty into which otherwise good people more easily and frequently fall than that of defrauding the government.” Being in this country illegally, no matter your character, is exactly that – a fraud that not only undermines the security of the nation, but also disregards the principles and rule of law to which every native and naturalized citizen pledges and is unconditionally guaranteed. While Franklin also maintained that, “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” the safeguarding of liberty is primary to the continuation of the American people and its founding principles. Securing our borders against illegal immigrants, even if requiring a degree of infringement upon liberties, is not discarding our principles; rather, it is the preservation of those principles, by making certain of adherence to them. The real issue is finding a solution that protects the citizens of this country without allowing the exploitation of our generosity by non-citizens in extending these principles.

©2010 Steve Sagarra

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