What a crazy night! Sometime after midnight I started dreaming that I was running for Governor, but not of any particular state, and off and on for then next few hours (until about ten minutes ago) I was campaigning on immigration issues. So here it is.
The immigration issues that our country faces today have two main facets. First, who should be able to come to the United States legally? And Second, what do we do about folks who come to or remain in the United States illegally?
First, who can come to the United States legally? I believe that the overarching principle that we must remember is that most of us who now live here came from somewhere else. Whether we came in the mid-1600's as my family did, or in the mid-2000's as some people I know, most of us came from somewhere else. We ARE a nation of immigrants. Our forebears came to the U.S. for a variety of reasons. Some came for economic opportunity. Some came for religious freedom. Some came unwillingly. Some came to flee persecution or oppression in their home countries. But apart from those who were brought here in generations past against their will, we came here because we believed that life in the United States would be a life of greater hope and opportunity. Is this any different today?
The answer to this question is not to close our borders; or to embark on a wholesale ban of certain ethnic, economic, or religious groups; or to build walls. A part of the answer is to celebrate that the United States is still a country where those around the world who are yearning for hope and opportunity want to come. The other part of the answer is to keep/put in place processes to ensure, as much as we can, that those who are coming to the United States are coming to work hard for hope and opportunity--not to do us harm. No process will ever keep out everyone who may have harmful intent, but that is the downstream role for law enforcement. And if we fall prey to the instinct to pull up the drawbridge now that we are safely inside the castle, then I believe that we have lost something fundamental to who we are as Americans. We must have safe and secure borders while continuing to promote expansive, speedy pathways to legal immigration.
Second, what about those who come to or remain in the United States illegally? To start with, immigration enforcement questions have easy answers if there are no faces. In the abstract the answers seem straightforward to me--if a person entered the country illegally or has overstayed their expired visa, then they should go back home and enter legally if they want to come back. Think of it this way. If you operated a buffet restaurant and someone snuck in the back door, should you feel obligated to allow them to continue to eat at the buffet just because they managed to sneak in? Of course not. And if someone paid for their meal yesterday, but didn't leave when you closed the restaurant last night, should you be obligated to let them eat today and every other day that they manage to not leave your restaurant? Of course not! But should either of these people be thrown in jail? Should you never let them eat in your restaurant again? Of if they pay for the meals that they ate, and agree to pay for any meals that they eat in the future, might they be some of your best customers in the long run?
And what if the reason that the person snuck into or stayed in your restaurant was because they believed that was the only way they could get food for their family? Does that change the outcome?
The current Republican frontrunners' positions to simply "build a wall" and kick out everyone who is here illegally are both shortsighted and impractical. I believe that if we are going to address the issue of people who are in the United States illegally, we need to create a process and an environment that does not drive people further underground, but that gives hope that they can have a better life by pursuing legal immigration status. If someone thinks that folks will "self-deport" just because some politician says they should, or that a wall will actually keep people out, that person does not understand human nature very well. If someone thinks that they can send immigration enforcers out across the country to drag 11 million people to the border kicking and screaming--without causing massive social unrest far more harmful than the illegal immigration issue--that person should wake up from their daydream.
Am I suggesting amnesty? Not really. Amnesty means ignoring past conduct--a no blood, no foul mindset. I am not suggesting that past misconduct should be ignored, but instead that it should be only one of several factors in what steps should be taken to become a legal immigrant. Those steps could include paying fines, paying back taxes, community service, or--in some cases--deportation and a return to the person's home country to start the legal immigration process. One thing is for sure. If we are going to address the immigration issue in a civil, humane, and American way we will need to invest resources in personnel, processes, and technology to enhance border security/entry; to monitor visa status of those who are legitimately here on a short term visa; and to process the cases of those who are currently here illegally.
Thanks for hanging in this long. That is my campaign stump speech on immigration. I can only hope that tomorrow night I can dream about camping or bike racing, or you may be able to read my stump speech on a different issue tomorrow. And just to be clear--I am not running for Governor.