At this point, there is not much to add to the cacophony of voices currently very loudly expressing themselves on the immigration reform issue, nor to my views on the matter previously expressed in these pages. So, for openers, I will repeat some thoughts, and then add a few new ones:It seems to me that this issue as much as any we face presents a convergence of often conflicting American passions—our compassion for the underdog, our heritage as a nation welcoming of immigrants, our free market idealism, and our commitment to the rule of law. I would like to believe that we will resolve it with due respect for all these instincts, but I know that some parts of all of them will suffer. I am not a “restrictionist” as that term has been defined, but I come down on the side of those who believe that we will not solve this problem without first committing to a policy of restoring the value and the priority of citizenship and strictly controlling our borders, while requiring assimilation to this culture by those we choose to admit. In other words, immigration should be first about citizenship, not about new voters or new workers.
In a book by Noah Pickus of Duke University, as recently reviewed in First Things, the author makes the excellent point that the current debate is largely about different ideas of what it means to be an American citizen, and he insightfully observes that we now “….face the difficult task of sustaining a civic nation in the absence of a dominant culture, ethnic identity, or consensus on the meaning of constitutional values…..”, making the challenge of forging unity much more difficult than in the founding era or even in the Progressive Era of unlimited immigration. Why is this the case? I submit that it is because the assault of the ideas of multiculturalism and postmodernism by our cultural and educational institutions over the past several decades, as well as the advent of market globalization, has undermined this consensus on what is meant by American citizenship. Can it be restored? We’re about to find out, with far reaching consequences for our future as a republic, and a major leading indicator will be the way we resolve this issue.
So where does this leave us on the immediate immigration questions? First, we can no longer just “muddle through”; we must find a long-term solution. Second, the rule of law should be the top priority, meaning that our borders must be strictly enforced and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” sanctuary policies of local law enforcement authorities must end. Third, I agree with Theodore Roosevelt who, in effect, said that we have no room for “hyphenated Americans” or dual citizenship; there is only room for those who want to be completely Americans. Fourth, the notion of temporary “guest” workers is unworkable—it creates a separate and un-American caste and it is unreasonable to expect them to honor the expiration of their guest permit. Let’s decide how many immigrants are required on an annual basis to meet the ever growing workforce needs of our economy and increase our immigration quotas to meet the need from those who want to become Americans in every sense or at least on a permanent visa basis. This can include those who are now here illegally, but only if they return to their country of origin, get certification from their home country that they do not have a criminal record, apply for permission to come here and work, receive an authenticated identification card, and sign a contract for work and commitment to pursue citizenship or permanent visa. Finally, to remove the major incentive for illegal immigration, serious employer penalties for hiring them should be enforced as a felony so that, over time and in combination with the other measures, the number of them will drastically shrink. These measures are true to our values and true to our instincts and will send the message that we have begun to restore the consensus on what it means to be an American citizen.