Time rolls on like a river, and it has been years since I stood on that bridge over the Rio Grande watching illegal immigration happen. I swear by all that is good and holy that I am not deaf to the argument that we are a nation of immigrants. Of course we are, but it is also said on good authority that we are a nation under the rule of law, not of men.
Laws can be wise and they can be foolish, but foolish laws can be revised. What is not acceptable, what is a non-starter, is the notion that we can dispense with the law. And even as I write this, that is exactly what is being proposed. Several Hispanic immigrant organizations, including Latino Families United, and the National Capital Immigration Coalition through its director, Pedro Aviles, have the effrontery to call for a moratorium on the enforcement of important immigration laws until reforms are passed. Do I need to tell you that this means reforms which meet their approval?
My spouse is an immigrant - as a matter of fact, a brown-skinned, Hispanic-surnamed immigrant, but who came here quite legally. Now, consider this: new regulations, implemented at the behest of the Department of Homeland Security, will require any legal visitors to the United States to go through a ten-finger fingerprint check before getting on the plane to come here.
We all know by now that many of the 9/11 terrorists were hiding in plain sight in the US because of appallingly loose controls on the entrance of aliens into this country, so this reform is probably well-advised. So: visiting businessmen, tourists spending their money here, scholars, and my in-laws, will go through detailed fingerprint checks.
At the same time, millions of people a year, not hundreds, not hundreds of thousands, but millions, are coming across the border without even tipping their hat to the Border Patrol. And in the bargain, Senor Aviles is telling us to not have immigration laws at all. Is this not mad?
Now, it seems to me that control of its own borders is one of the most elementary duties of an organized state. It also seems pretty clear to me at least -- if not to many of my fellow citizens -- that any society has the right to have some say in how it defines itself. The US has historically been noticeably more tolerant than other nations in this self-definition and I think this is a good thing.
Consequently, I feel particularly galled, even insulted, by elements within the Hispanic community who accuse the rest of us of racism because we want to have immigration to our country regulated by any rule of law at all.
It is in this that the massiveness of the problem and its potential for harm must really be confronted. The nature of the problem -- the fact that illegal immigrants are unaccounted for -- makes it difficult to measure. Still, there seems to be general agreement that the population involved is well over 10 million and may approach 20 million. An article on the internet today has put estimates of illegal immigrants in this country as high as 38 million. That may be a stretch (may be) but with the anarchy on our borders, who can tell?
Senor Aviles, his National Capital Immigration Coalition, Latino Families United, and a long train of allied organizations such as Mexicans Without Borders (think about that name for a minute) want this army of people to receive a dispensation from the laws that the rest of us must follow. The problems are real, my friends.
Think of the new and particularly virulent strains of diseases that we thought we had conquered, such as tuberculosis; think of the problems of anchor babies who are used to justify their parents' residence; think of the demands that illegal immigrants should receive benefits that even citizens don't get, such as in-state tuition at universities anywhere in the country. Everyone concerned about the problem has their own list of abuses to rile them up; these happen to be mine.
At the heart of the problem is the demand that one special group, Hispanic immigrants, should be exempt from the law that all other ethnic groups are expected to obey. Because of the numbers of people involved, this then evolves into a cascade of genuinely large scale problems affecting our schools, public health, eligibility for voting, the social security system, taxation, and a host of other issues. This cannot help but corrupt the very concept of citizenship within the nation, because if non-citizens are granted the privileges of citizens, citizenship has lost its meaning.
I think that the proponents of a lax attitude towards immigration don't fully realize that they are proposing an astonishing level of disrespect for the rule of law. It is not enough to argue that the existing immigration laws are imperfect. Of course they are. So is every other law.
I would be happy to argue in favor of abolishing laws against fireworks, because I love to shoot firecrackers. Building developers would like to get rid of zoning laws. Bears would like to lobby in favor of changing regulations permitting hunting (and aren't bears genuine Americans? They were here first.)
Nobody and no state can contrive the perfect legal order, because of our mortal limitations. But no one really wants the alternative of anarchy. There must be an advantage to being a citizen, as opposed to a noncitizen. If there is not, the prudent person will increasingly decide to live outside the community of the law,and we will begin to experience a nightmarish reality that is the Hobbesian "War of All against All."