There are a lot of nations that by contrast and by most metrics are worse than the United States. America is a shining light on a hill for many of these nations, but, it’s precisely because we are this beacon that many wayward travelers seek refuge on our safe shores.
Americans of all walks and political affiliations know this truth and it’s the reactions to this truism that spawn the most ridiculous arguments that really narrow down to a simple issue that we can debate easily.
First, let’s briefly dispense with the shallowest immigration arguments.
“We’re all immigrants” is a tired argument and increasingly means little. Simply because we all did something in our ancestry neither makes it something that we must or continue to do as a matter of national policy. The travelers who landed upon and conquered America did so for freedom, sure, but also for land and new opportunity. This line of thinking is analogous to an argument suggesting current possessors of land owe an obligation to newcomers to divest of their stake in America simply because in their ancestry their family took from someone else. It’s a faulty line of thinking.
But closed-border arguments and “America first” arguments are also very largely in bad faith, consisting mostly of thinly veiled racism. This point is so evident that it’s almost not worth exploring. Any high-level observation of American history reveals that cheap immigrant labor feeds the economy. The offspring of cheap laborers become the lower middle class blessed with potential upward mobility and the opportunity that America affords. The cycle then repeats itself with a new wave or influx of immigrants.
Speaking generally, the hypocrisy is striking. Some folks tweeting out closed border rage on Twitter (designed by many immigrants in Silicon Valley) with their iPhones (designed by many immigrants in Silicon Valley and built by the Taiwanese and Chinese as a result of free trade). But, I digress.
A merit-based system as a concept is also a misleading argument because there is no consensus in Washington, D.C. or elsewhere on what “merit” means. If merit means “adds value”, then virtually every Dreamer wouldn’t make the cut because most are still children and is anyone really looking to assign value to children? If merit simply means “safe” or “not unsafe”, there might be some reasonable arguments to be made here if narrowly designed and with articulable reasons for exclusion, namely taking measures to ensure members of terrorist organizations can’t waltz across the border.
It’s highly doubtful that Americans or politicians are enthusiastic about making value judgments on people entering the country. Furthermore, if we are to believe the core of the American dream, isn’t it also a lie to suggest that only those that come into the country with merit can produce anything promising? I imagine most would balk at placing value on professions and different people. Our nation is also replete with examples of poor immigrants and their children rising to dizzying heights of achievement and service.
Our debates in America when it comes to immigration miss the mark and fail to hone in on the crux of the matter.
The main reason for our safety and solidarity is because the hyper-majority of Americans have bought into the rule of law and our constitutional republic and, over time, we have convinced new arrivals to buy in as well. The influx of ideas and new blood into our country has always provided innovation and paved the way for new and heightened achievement by every American — old and new. The innovators and producers in this country don’t precisely resemble those who came across the Atlantic on the Mayflower just as the innovators and producers 100 years from now won’t necessarily look like those from 2018. For the most part, immigrants come to our shores to create a life and raise their families. Most buy into our system and way of life. It’s one of the reasons they came.
This is why the crux of the debate really is: How many immigrants can the United States accommodate while not sacrificing the basic tenets of our democracy?
If you believe in the basic premise of America, you therefore believe that our constitutional republic broadly applied is one of the greatest forms of government on the planet and can accommodate a certain number of people without sacrificing freedoms and liberties of our current population.
Think of the debate like a company taking in a bunch of new hires. If a company doubled or tripled in size overnight with all new people, the efficiency and value of the company might suffer to the detriment of all employees because to a certain extent institutional knowledge would be lost. The American experiment works well because of our civic engagement and understanding and its introduction and acceptance by newcomers.
A real debate and argument about how many immigrants the United States can accept without losing its character and constitutional republic functions is one serious policymakers need to have. I don’t profess to have the answer.
But, I do know that if the border were secured, if every undocumented individual in America was accounted for and given a status under the law, there would still be a line at America’s door waiting. Our real question should be: How many come in?
Playing to prejudices wins votes, but doesn’t accommodate realities.
Speaking in hyperbole feels virtuous, but doesn’t create solutions.
So let’s have the debate, but let’s make it about what the United States can accommodate and not devolve into the unrealistic or the prejudiced. The American experiment will continue to bear out positive results if we are committed to tailoring our debates to meet the needs of our time.
Tyler Grant is a lawyer in New York. He is a graduate of University of Virginia School of Law and Washington and Lee University.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.