Saturday, January 28, 2012

Immigration Debate


"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she 
With silent lips.

 "Give me your tired, your poor,
 Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

 The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
 I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I disagree with most of the pundits who have claimed that the Republicans have put up a mediocre group of candidates for this year’s Presidential race. I watched one of the debates in South Carolina and believe that the four remaining candidates showed remarkable poise and ability.

It is true that not every one seems “Presidential” but each represents an important position or positions that the GOP’s eventual candidate would be wise to somehow work into his own campaign. However, on the issue of immigration I believe that they were all wrong.

I’m not talking about the absurd idea of shipping millions of immigrants back to Mexico where they can wait in line to apply for citizenship. I’m more concerned with the position laid out by Rick Santorum and seemingly accepted by the others. Santorum himself is the son of an Italian immigrant. His father came to this country at the age of seven, and Santorum is proof of how well immigrants can prosper and thrive in this country.

However, for Santorum citizenship means respect for the laws of one’s country, and the first act of every illegal immigrant was to break the law. Neither he nor any of the others ever considered whether the law itself was just or unjust. Political philosophers tell us that not only should an unjust law not be obeyed, but also that it must be opposed.

Does Santorum or anyone else think the law that prohibited East Germans from going over the Berlin Wall and leaving their country was just? Does anyone believe that escapees should have been returned to East Germany because they had broken East German law? Of course not.

Like Santorum I am a descendant of Italians who migrated to America over 100 years ago. True, they were legal immigrants who had to make their way through Ellis Island just like the Irish, the Germans, the Jews, the Poles, the Slovaks, and all the others who came through the so-called “Golden Door.” However, if these legal immigrants had come to this country after 1920 the great majority of them would have been illegal. What happened? Why did a country that had always kept its doors open to immigrants suddenly close them?

After the First World War a wave of prejudice and bigotry swept over this country that led politicians to severely restrict the flow of immigration. Many of the immigrants like my Italian ancestors could hardly read and write even in their own language, and since they were Catholic they were regarded as ignorant and superstitious. They were called wops and guineas and their crowded streets were believed to be breeding grounds of crime and depravity.

In the 1920’s racists and advocates of ethnic purity decided to stem the flow of immigration into this country. They wanted no more undesirables, especially if they practiced alien religions like Catholicism and Judaism.

Why should anyone support a law made during the 1920s that made a mockery of the Statue of Liberty and the famous poem written by Emma Lazarus.

Why do commentators like Pat Buchanan believe that the Mexicans who have crossed the borders of our country in order to find a better life for themselves and their families, will be different from the earlier immigrants? Last year I attended an early morning Mass in Princeton, New Jersey on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The priest told us that earlier, at 4:00 a.m., 600 Latinos had packed the church for a prayer service on that great feast. Are these hard working people undesirables?

If the law was different all of these immigrants could have entered the country peacefully without danger to life and limb and without employing criminals to guide them. I’m not saying we should be stupid or impractical. They should have to apply for citizenship and meet certain criteria. They should not immediately enjoy all the benefits of citizenship, for citizenship in this country should still be regarded as a great privilege.

Finally, opening up our doors again will provide great benefits. It is not just a question of who will cut our lawns, remove our garbage, or paint our homes, but how will we compete with China’s huge population with only 300 million people? Who will buy up our unused housing if our population continues to decline? Don’t immigrants now rent American apartments, drive American cars, and buy American products in American stores?

Finally, the pressure on those states that now bear the brunt of illegal immigration will be alleviated. The millions of dollars now spent on controlling the Mexican border can be allocated to other purposes. ###

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