I am an immigrant and a naturalized citizen. I came to this country at the age of ten, grew up in a blue-collar immigrant household, was raised around primarily Central-Eastern European and Hispanic working-class immigrants, and ultimately married another immigrant. So, according to the left, I represent a demographic that should support open borders and unchecked mass immigration (both legal and illegal), both out of self-interest and for moral reasons. I see things differently, however, and opt for national sovereignty, secure borders and common-sense immigration policies that benefit the United States and its people.
This stance often elicits shock, anger and sneering from leftists, including pro-illegal alien advocates, cheerleaders for increasing already historically high immigration levels and the radical purveyors of divisive identity politics that attempt to pit immigrants against natives. Many foreign born people who don’t buy into the open borders insanity and believe that rational limits make sense are no doubt eye-rollingly familiar with the hostile reactions.
One of the most common accusations is that by supporting allegedly “anti-immigrant” policies, we are undermining our own best interests (as understood by the left) and are, therefore, by implication not particularly intelligent. This is incredibly patronizing and assumes that the elitist boosters of mass migration know better than we do what is good for us. Coming from a family that suffered under communist oppression in Poland, this attitude has more than a whiff of the arrogant Marxist assertion that workers and peasants who oppose Marxism embrace a “false consciousness.” Moreover, this thinking presupposes that the interests of immigrants (as if they were a monolith) are fundamentally opposed to those of most native-born Americans, and therefore the former should fall in line and join the ranks of a coalition against the latter to engage in a zero-sum struggle for political and economic power.
The reality, based on my experience, is that most immigrants generally want the same things that most native born Americans do, including prosperity, upward mobility, good schools for their children and public safety (law and order). Paradoxically, however, high levels of mass migration – both legal and illegal – tend to undermine these common dreams, including through wage depression, increased job competition, crowded schools and the entry of foreign criminals or terrorists. In other words, high migration levels can have negative practical consequences on us immigrants too, and that is why sustainable immigration levels actually are in our interest.
Another common accusation from the left – and in particular from the identity politics crowd – is that immigrants who oppose their agenda must be self-hating sellouts (they usually resort to this line of attack because it is much more difficult to accuse the foreign-born of xenophobia, the go-to accusation against the native-born). In fact, I’m proud of my heritage, as are many other immigrants. However, a future of warring tribes and bitter ethnic tensions, which is what radical identity politics seems to be leading to, is hardly an appealing prospect – particularly for immigrants from places where life is marred by intractable ethnic or sectarian conflicts. Another irony here is that the radicals pushing identity politics constantly criticize mainstream American society for being insufficiently accepting of immigrants. At the same time, however, they attempt to keep us marginalized in the immigrant “ghetto,” constantly nursing grievances (sometimes from decades ago!) against the majority population, by poo-pooing assimilation. It seems that the goal is to use immigrants as a tool – a battering ram, if you will – to carry out a revolutionary transformation of this country. But what if many of us immigrants like America the way it is and don’t see a need for radical, disruptive change?
Probably the worst charge levied at us, however, amounts to moral blackmail. Whether we believe in secure borders or hold the opinion that newcomers should learn English and respect American customs – we are told that we are being selfish or hypocritical. In other words, we supposedly don’t want others to enjoy the benefits we are enjoying.
This moralizing, finger wagging attitude assumes that the self-interest of a native-born American or legal immigrant is somehow immoral, conflating self-interest with selfishness.
That approach has the goal of immigration policy – which should be to prioritize those who are already here – quite backwards. Its objective should be to benefit the country and its people. But the open borders crowd puts the needs and desires of foreign nationals first and appears to view the purpose of our immigration system as a giant global wealth redistribution scheme via migration.
Moreover, supporting common-sense immigration policies while being an immigrant is not a reflection of “selfishness” or “immorality,” but rather one of logical and philosophical consistency. I refuse to take national sovereignty and borders for granted, mainly because my native country of Poland was forced to struggle for independence and to face foreign invasions and occupations for centuries. That is why I find myself frustrated when some immigrants display a defiantly nationalistic attitude towards their lands of origin but suddenly transform into open-borders internationalists when the U.S. is concerned. One cannot have it both ways, particularly since the globalist assault on sovereignty and borders is by no means limited to this country.
Last but not least, it is moral for immigrants, especially after accepting U.S. citizenship, to put the common good of America above other, competing interests. That is not only an example of how assimilation is supposed to work, but also a recognition of the fact that legal immigrants benefit from sound and prudent immigration policies as much as native-born Americans do.
Pawel Styrna is an immigration policy analyst at Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).