Some Thoughts on Immigration

19:25 Mon 21 May 2007. Updated: 17:14 22 May 2007

Immigration is a huge topic in the US right now. While in Philadelphia airport yesterday, I was unable to avoid CNN’s Lou Dobbs, who thinks that illegal immigration is a gigantic threat to America, and more generally, coverage of the Senate bill. I don’t know enough about the provisions of that bill to have a strong opinion on it, but there’s a lot of hysteria around the issue.

Most of the hysteria is around the idea that immigration will alter the cultural fabric of the United States, which most commentators seem to think is a bad thing, although they don’t tend to have specifics. I don’t have much time for this argument, and consider it an unfounded panic along the lines of, for example, the Philadelphia Anti-Catholic Riots.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think that the immigration of millions of Catholic Irish into the United States has resulted in the overthrow of America’s “moral order”, or in a country ruled by Rome… and I don’t think that current immigration levels are going to result in huge changes either.

Dobbs does have a point about illegal labor suppressing wages, but enforcing labor laws seems like the best approach to this. After all, if people can’t find work, they’re not going to be inclined to enter the country. The problem is that there are apparently a lot of businesses making a lot of money off of immigrant labor, and they’re not too inclined to support such a solution.

Any authoritarian resopnse involving fences, more border patrols, more border controls, and so on, is something I would oppose. The US has too much of that kind of crap already, what with the “War on Terror” and the “War on Drugs” both having significant presences at the borders. (Authoritarian border controls incidentally cost the US a lot of money in decreased foreign tourism.)

My last thought on this for the moment is that the tone of the anti-immigration side is often intolerable. At the very least, some humility is aboslutely necessary, where you acknowledge that the United States is entirely an immigrant nation, and you acknowledge that by trying to halt immigration now, you’re altering the way the country has worked for centuries, and you are also retroactively privileging your immigrant ancestors over today’s immigrants. You might still have valid points beyond that, but explicitly recognizing those two things is very important. Otherwise, you’re just a historically-hypocritical blowhard.

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