A month already. My, how time flies when time’s flying. Thirty days having passed, it’s another installment of Off The Bench, where we discuss everything but court matters. And where I strive to avoid the temptation to spend 800 words picking on my editor.
Fortunately for the first substantive column I did not have to work hard to find a topic. The June 1, 2013 Herald contains a letter which asks the pertinent hot-topic question, “Why are there no Herald editorials on immigration?” Reader service is just one of my middle names, so with that in mind, let’s talk about immigration. Granted, this is a column, rather than an editorial, but letter generation is the overall intent and it’s the spirit that counts.
Let’s start with a definition. Looking online, I find, ” The action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country.” Close enough for government work.
Now some history and sociology: First and foremost, every living soul in this land is either an immigrant, or descended from immigrants. Period. While it might be interesting historically that some residents walked here during an ice age, while others thought that waiting for the Industrial Revolution and the invention of aircraft was less burdensome, nevertheless the only way that people have gotten here has been by way of immigration. America is a nation founded on immigration.
Despite that, attitudes toward subsequent immigrants have see-sawed over the centuries. I’m confident that some First Americans regret that their ancestors did not have tighter immigration rules. Which brings us to a huge point in the current debate over immigration; the descendants of people who benefitted from lax immigration policies are now turning around and trying to “pull up the ladder” to others who possibly want the same opportunities.
Dislike for immigrants by those already here is not new. In the mid-19th century, signs saying “No Irish Need Apply” were not uncommon, and Chinese railroad builders were not allowed to bring their wives with them. Even when immigration did occur, immigrants frequently found themselves clustered together in different ways: the “poor” part of town, or Chinatowns or, in Pennsylvania coal country, little towns almost exclusively Scots-Irish, or Polish, or Italian. Little areas full of “Thems” who quite obviously weren’t “Us.”
Despite the eventual acceptance and assimilation of all of those “thems” into modern America, we are still having discussions about “Them.” Now, “They” are generally Hispanic, though the Department of Homeland Security reports that there are more than a few “illegal” Chinese, Irish, Filipino, Indian, and Others hiding out here. There are three frequent complaints about “Them:” “They” didn’t wait in line to do it legally; “They” are taking more than they’re giving; or “They” are not assimilating, not becoming part of America. There are others, some interesting, some contemptible, but let’s look at these three.
“They” didn’t wait in line goes away fairly quickly. Until recently, most immigrants had nothing more than a wait and a medical check to get into the country, if that much. The Republic did not fall with a short admissions process, it’s not going to fall if the same – with, say, an added criminal history check – were instituted now.
The second, “They” take more than they give, is disputed, but assume it’s true. The solution to that is, again, simple – make entitlements contingent on citizenship. The staunchest libertarian would agree that a welfare state cannot coexist with open borders, and since we apparently can’t close the borders, the answer is to close the open welfare state.
The final problem … “They” are not assimilating, is a more serious one. To the extent that someone residing in a foreign country chooses not to assimilate – I certainly didn’t assimilate much, living in Korea – that is his decision and if not learning the language or customs or laws handicaps the person, so be it. But I’m not convinced that the host nation should bear any cost involved in catering to the “guest” population. For instance, I’m not sure that printing government documents in multiple languages is helpful. It arguably enables residents – legal or otherwise – to continue their separation. Since separation, rather than assimilation, is not something that holds a nation together, the more a nation’s population is separated, the more likely it is for bad things to happen.
Ask any Yugoslavian you happen to meet.
But that’s just the opinion of an opinionated guy. Let’s hear your opinions on the topic – don’t let the air between you and the keyboard (or pen and paper) hold you back! Tell us what you think either by sending letters to the editor or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org for use in future columns. Names of the terminally shy will be withheld on request.