I picked up my car from the shop and happened to catch part of RadioWest. Doug was talking to a writer about immigration and the contradictions in our human nature, wanting to help people in need and trying to secure our borders. I didn’t catch the whole show so I don’t know if that perspective is representative of the entire hour, but it got me thinking about my views on immigration which eventually boil down to this – I think we’re asking the wrong question.
Our political discussion of the issue is how to deal with illegal immigrants. I don’t think we can approach that question until we have taken the time to ask – how did we get in our current position? That includes the role of immigration in our history and the history of our immigration laws. It also includes the reasons that people cross our borders illegally. Until we have that background I think that any grand compromise (which seems to be the only kind of laws we have been getting lately) is like trying to catch a fish for dinner by shooting a slingshot into a stream in the dark.
As a start, our legal limits on immigration basically stem from the Immigration Act of 1924. Though some adjustments have been made in the 83 years since, nothing has fundamentally changed in our law. Prior to 1924 we never had a comprehensive immigration restriction except that we tried to prevent people with significant criminal records or contagious disease enter the country. Now I ask the question – are we better off since we decided to stem the flow of immigration? I don’t think we are. Not only that, but I am a bit suspicious of why we chose to enact that law in 1924. None of the great advances of the past century can be even remotely tied to limiting the flow of immigrants. If we were to open our borders completely (except for cases of contagious disease or criminal record) would we be any worse off than we are now? I doubt it since we have a tidal wave of people coming in despite our laws.
I’m not arguing for amnesty, I am arguing that we need to start making an informed decision on where we stand on the issue of immigration. If we decide that it is necessary to limit immigration then we need to close the door. Until we decide what we believe about immigration there’s really no point in discussing amnesty (or lack of amnesty).