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Immigration realities

Ian Ronderos | Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Multitudes of people across the nation marched Monday to support immigration reform. Immigration has proven to be a divisive and hard issue, but one that must be addressed. The Senate has stalled on a bill that would have allowed for “guest workers” to enter the country temporarily. The bill would also have opened up avenues for illegal immigrants currently living in the nation to pursue citizenship. The House has already passed a harsh bill that calls for the construction of a seven hundred mile wall and changing the status of illegal immigration from a civil infraction to a felony.

The stalled senatorial bill contains some very good practical logic. Illegal immigrants exist. They do so in great numbers and have a significant role in our economy – to the tune of eleven million workers. Many illegal immigrants have been already integrated into American society, and the only thing separating them from their legal colleagues is a piece of paper. It is often argued that to provide any sort of amnesty or road to citizenship for illegals is wrong, because it chooses to allow a law to go unenforced, lets people who violated the law get off unpunished and encourages more people to break the immigration laws of this country. This sounds theoretically valid and it is true that we should not encourage laws to be broken, but the point ultimately fails. The prior argument is one that applies theoretical reasoning to a practical problem.

In the purely abstract, one should not allow the laws of a nation to be ignored, should punish violators and prevent similar future transgressions; practically, we must deal with the fact that we have a very large number of illegal aliens working in this nation, with more coming, and that they are not going anywhere soon. A practical solution to the problem is to allow “temporary workers” to enter the country, in order to encourage immigrants to cross legally, and to allow illegal immigrants already in the country and working a chance to make themselves naturalized. As it is impossible to remove the vast number of illegal workers, this permits them to further integrate themselves into American society. If workers are intent on entering America, and are willing to do so illegally, it makes sense to offer them a way of doing so legally – hence the “guest worker” proposal. This way the government can exert more control over the nation’s borders.

The House bill is entirely unethical. The erection of a security wall seven hundred miles long simply evolves from a siege mentality that is harming this nation. September 11 changed the way Americans viewed the world, and in many ways for the worse. It is important that we were made aware and more vigilant, so that such a tragedy can be guarded against. However, a sense of panic has attended the American population ever since and has a caused many Americans to adopt a scarily insular view of the world, one that centers upon feelings of constant threat and danger imminent. Walls divide people and foster ill will. The creation of the proposed barrier would only promulgate the view that America cares nothing for poor third-worlders and is desperate to keep them out.

The proposal to make illegal immigrants felons is as appalling as it is cruel. This would create millions of felons overnight, who if caught would swell our already overcrowded penal system. Many children entered America illegally with their parents – are they to be felons too? Are they to suffer for obeying the commands of their parents, as any good child should? The felony proposal, as well as the wall one, is motivated by fear. America is seeking to protect herself by adopting overly severe measures. Harsh severity only belies vulnerability. America is only considering these options because she fears terrorists entering the country or immigrants taking jobs.

Immigration is a good thing and should not be feared, but rather encouraged. The nineteenth century saw waves of Italian, German and Irish immigrants. They at first were despised and feared by segments of the population because they were different and would work for less. More than a century later, America has largely absorbed these immigrants and joined their culture to the existing one to create something very unique. That is the beauty of America – we are a collection of cultures and peoples that have synthesized to form something that belongs to no one ethnic group or culture. America is an idea. We should be excited to show it to the world and welcome its adherents to come join us. Sometimes changes to the established cultural or economic norm are unavoidable, but it would harm us more to close ourselves off like hermits. Open and friendly intercourse between nations and peoples leads to their mutual growth – just as it does in individuals. The Athenian statesman and orator Pericles delivered the following stunning lines on the openness of democracy during his moving funeral oration: “Our city is thrown open to the world though and we never expel a foreigner and prevent him from seeing or learning anything of which the secret if revealed to an enemy might profit him. We rely not upon management or trickery, but upon our own hearts and hands.” Yet some in America would seek to manage and control our openness to the world using the treachery of fear.

Ian Ronderos is a senior majoring in the classics with a supplementary major in ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Having retired from the College Republicans and adopted independent politics, he has entered the private life of peaceful contemplation. Ian can be contacted at irondero@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.