The jingoist anger heaped on anyone who suggests that some form of amnesty is
needed in order to address this country’s (specifically Latino) immigration
“problem” is baffling and irrational to me.
Not only is amnesty a vital component of meaningful reform, but to suggest that it is not is contradictory to the American values of fairness and liberty. The same American values amnesty opponents use to cloak their own contrarian arguments.
Generally speaking criticism centers on the beliefs that illegal immigrants harm the United States economy and that to allow amnesty represents an inherent
immorality because no one is above the law.
Ostensibly these arguments are at least plausible, the economic more so than the moral, but in reality they are both patently false and are harming this nation. Economic theories can be argued in good faith but I strongly suspect that the reasoning behind the “immoral immigrant” theory is at best xenophobic, and consequently immoral in and of itself, therefore I will take this opportunity to address it first.
To cite morality in discussions of the problem is wasteful, insidious and toxic to
democracy. Arguments of this type invariably lead an unfortunate display of
imitation patriotism; a brand of patriotism without substance.
It is amusing to hear people spout their belief that their ancestors followed the law to a tee as if they themselves remember what happened at Ellis Island (or for the locals: Locust Point).
Even if provided with the benefit of the doubt that Grandma and Grandpa Kettle were legal immigrants, it is clear that our immigration laws today bear virtually no resemblance to the laws which they abided by in decades past.
Little to no required paperwork, nonexistent quotas, barely if any literacy or language requirements. Grandpa Kettle bought the boat ticket and that was that, end of discussion.
Until the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 there were very few barriers to
white immigration to the US, especially if hailing from central or western
Europe. It is reasonable to assume that if our modern immigration laws had
applied from 1850 onwards, it is very likely that you would not be reading this
editorial, at least not in English.
The bitterest irony is, of course, that the hatred of today is merely paid forward from the hatred our own ancestors faced at the hands of America’s earliest Nativists. Take care when using your ancestors as a guide for political opinions, their point of view from the ship’s pier might not exactly be the same as yours.
But we reserve the worst of intolerance when we argue the immorality of breaking
the law, as if the law is the fount of morality. What a confused opinion it is,
to assume that all laws are inherently moral.
Laws exist to regulate the conduct of society, they are written by politicians, not Aristotle. To list examples of immoral laws which have long been repealed or modified would be an insult to intelligence. But since I do intend to stir the pot, here is that list anyway: the Nuremberg Laws, Japanese-American internment, Chinese Exclusion Act, etc.
I am not arguing current immigration laws are tantamount to the aforementioned list, I am arguing that laws are not inherently moral and must be shaped by the needs of society. It is immoral to deport a mother of native-born children so that she may serve a ten year immigration ban.
It is immoral to make a people choose between following an archaic law or watch their family suffer in the grime of poverty, and it is immoral to expect illegal
immigrants to die a noble lawful death of thirst in the Mojave Desert.
No one leaves because they want to, they leave because they must. All of us, every last one of us, would make the same choice if the roles were reversed. To
suggest otherwise hints at moral bankruptcy.
No, Latino illegal immigrants will not force everyone to learn Spanish, they will not randomly coagulate into a crime wave placing suburbia in peril, and they will not steal all of our jobs.
We do not speak Italian or Greek in court, we do not worship foreign popery and
Kaiser Bill did not topple our democracy. Bill the Butcher can rest in peace.
No, Latino immigrants, legal or otherwise, will do exactly what every other
ethnic group has done since time immemoriam. They will adjust, we will adjust
and they will contribute to the American Dream, just like your ancestors did. Don't worry that people want to come to the United States, you should worry when they choose to go elsewhere.
We must provide a path towards amnesty to aid in this process, so that
hopefully soon we can all collectively return to inane bickering about Ron
Paul’s gold standard, Karl Rove’s blood pressure or some other meaningless
The author is an immigrant, a law student and once spent some time doing very
little in the Marine Corps.