Anti-Immigration is Anti-American, Hypocritical and Immoral
The new Arizona immigration law, SB 1070, carried with it the latest wave of crazed anti-immigrant hysteria to sweep over the nation. “We have to protect our borders! …They take away our jobs! …They don’t pay taxes or contribute to society! …They’re all criminals and carry disease here! …They should follow the rules and become legal just like our forebears did!” It’s the same old litany. Fear-based myths and prejudicial misconceptions such as these—all of which have been roundly debunked and discredited by immigration scholars well versed in the objective, statistical data as well as the actual state and history of immigrants and immigration in the U.S. that informs the issue and usually contradicts and dismantles anti-immigrant rhetoric and propaganda--abound in the immigration debate. I could rehash and cite some of the numerical data that directly counters and undermines anti-immigrant positions, but frankly, I do not think it is necessary.
I would like to take a less statistical approach here and instead put forth a somewhat more philosophical argument that draws on the actual history and focuses on the critical moral and ethical aspects of taking a hard-hearted, hard-line stance towards immigration—while remaining ever-cognizant of the fact that the statistical evidence is there if need be to further strengthen a pro-immigrant standpoint.
In my view, the immigration question is largely one of right and wrong. In a broad sense, it is an issue that can be resolved rather simply through sound moral reasoning and judgment, in accordance with international and domestic law—that is, as long as we want to respond humanely and treat immigrants with the respect, dignity, compassion and sympathy they deserve as fellow human beings. Our immigration policy should be based much less on irrational, unfounded fears and hypocritical notions of who does and does not belong here; it should be based much more on a sensible, shared humanity.
First, almost all of us (here I mean us white people of European ancestry, who are primarily the ones stoking the flames of anti-immigrant fervor) are the direct descendants of immigrants. And none of us (white or non-white) were here originally—unless, of course, you happen to be Native American. It was OUR ancestors who committed genocide against millions of native inhabitants of "our" land. It was they who systematically wiped out, slaughtered and decimated the indigenous population (not all at once, of course, but over time), destroying diverse Native cultures and heritage, which they justified by looking down on Native cultures and peoples as "barbarian," “savage,” "uncivilized," and "inhuman"—as still happens today in wars all over the world (yes, in Iraq and Afghanistan, too) when people (overwhelmingly innocent civilians, that is, innocent men, women and children who have or want nothing to do with the fighting) are dehumanized in order to rationalize shooting, bombing, maiming and massacring them (It's really screwed up and, frankly, we as U.S. citizens could do a lot more to stop it from happening and we don't).
So, really it is the height of hypocrisy and a travesty of justice (for reasons discussed above and below) for us to tell Mexican immigrants, or El Salvadoran immigrants, or Guatemalan immigrants, or Honduran immigrants, or Haitian immigrants, or any other darker-skinned (or light-skinned but mostly darker-skinned) North or South or Central American immigrants that they don't have the right to be here. Who the ef are we to tell them they don't belong anywhere on this continental landmass when THEIR ancestors were typically here long, long before ours? Many of their ancestors, note, were displaced from what is now the continental United States to south of our borders when OUR ancestors invaded and gradually but deliberately took over more and more of their lands.
Also, keep in mind a big part of the reason why they now so often live in such poor, miserable, corrupt hellholes and are so desperate to come here and hopefully change the circumstances, prospects and outlooks for themselves and their families is that WE (i.e., predominantly the U.S. but other relatively rich, advanced, industrial countries as well) have imposed our will upon them and forced them to follow strict and stringent neoliberal economic policies that have kept them down and out, underwater, and unable to dig themselves out of any hole. In addition, secretly negotiated so-called “free trade” agreements, such as NAFTA and GATT, invariably favor investors’ rights and multinational corporations’ interests over people’s rights and the general population’s interests—naturally having devastatingly harmful effects for underdeveloped countries like Mexico.
Not to mention all of the harsh, brutal and murderous dictatorships and military regimes that we—the U.S.—have propped up, installed and supported over the years throughout Central and South America; this has oftentimes been done after we orchestrated or directly assisted in coup d'etats and the overthrow of democratically elected governments. It has been done in Guatemala; it has been done in El Salvador; it has been done in Chile (in what people throughout Latin America refer to as the first “9-11” of 1973)—just to name a few.
Furthermore, let's not forget there is such a thing as basic human rights. There is also such a thing as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—adopted December 10, 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations (without dissent)—which is basically a covenant binding all signed nations (of which we, the United States, are one) to an agreement that outlines fundamental rights and freedoms that ALL people should have AS PEOPLE, as human beings, "without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." ARTICLE 3 of the UD says: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." ARTICLE 13(2) says: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." And ARTICLE 14(1) says: "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." These provisions are supreme, binding international laws.
But then we also have rights and protections granted to immigrants under domestic law—namely the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) guarantees personal freedoms and individual liberties to “people” and “persons”—not citizens—of the United States. Thus, for instance, all of us on United States soil—whether citizen or no—have the secured rights to freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” from “excessive bail” and “excessive fines,” and from “cruel and unusual punishments.” And no “person” shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In addition, the Fourteenth Amendment states:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
So even here—in the amendment that defines citizenship rights—immigrants, regardless of their legal status, are clearly included among those having equal protection under the law.
Being “American”—or more precisely, being inhabitants of the United States—does mean something. To most of us, it often means being “free,” and having the freedom to do all of the things expressly assured to us in the Constitution. But perhaps just as important, though often overlooked, is that it also means being open—being open to difference and differences—and, as a corollary, being inclusive. Who would deny that the great extent to which our society is variegated, multi-layered, multi-faceted, multicultural and multiethnic is essential to who we are as a nation—our spirit, our dynamism, our breadth of influence—as well as to the still unfulfilled promise we hold to ourselves and to the rest of the world for who we could be and what we could become? No matter how the closed border argument is spun and euphemized, to be anti-immigration is to be anti-immigrant, which is to be anti-American and inhumane, which is to be collectively self-destructive.
On a final note, I think we should honor the part of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty that says:
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!