Thursday, October 7, 2010

Following the Rules

In virtually every discussion I've ever heard on immigration the conservative argument sounds something like this: "I've got nothing against immigrants—as long as they follow the rules!" Conservatives, of course, are all about following the rules, and immigration provides an excellent chance to climb up on a soapbox and preach about it.

The argument is most compelling when it comes from an actual immigrant, or at least a member of a recently-immigrated family:
Despite their dire situations, their hardships, and their lack of financial means, all of my family members came into this country legally. They all went through painstaking efforts to earn that entry.

I summarize this background merely to demonstrate that there is a difference between those who are here illegally, and those who played by the rules and patiently made their way here legally. It is an insult to all of the legal immigrants in this great country to act as though the rules don’t matter and should simply be tossed away.
I couldn't agree more. Well, that's not true—it's almost never true. I'd agree more if there wasn't such a strong implication that the choice faced by aliens is whether to immigrate legally or immigrate illegally. That is, perhaps, the choice faced by aliens with close relatives who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, or aliens with certain desirable job skills, or aliens who happen to be from one of those countries whose people aren't already lined up at the border.

For most, however, the choice is between immigrating illegally or not immigrating at all. As it turns out, those rules that conservatives have so much respect for exclude a huge amount of people from even having the chance to come here legally. That doesn't mean their argument is invalid, it just means it's incomplete. Here, in convenient chart form, is the rest of it:

What they say: What they should add:
[Illegal immigrants] should go home as a family and try to come back through a legal process. …or, more realistically, just go home and not come back.
No one has a problem with people migrating LEGALLY to this country. The problem is ILLEGAL immigration…people who break the law by coming to this country without bothering to adhere to the rule of law and get proper paperwork. …so what if the rule of law to which these people must adhere requires them, more often than not, to abandon their dreams of immigrating to the U.S.? America isn't for everybody!
Jan Brewer has the cojones…to secure our borders and allow legal immigration to help build this country as was the purpose of immigration laws. …and we need a secure border because, as those laws reflect, most of the people on the other side of it aren't wanted here.
Tens of thousands of impoverished people abroad, from Africa to Asia, wait patiently to enter America legally, while hundreds of thousands from Latin America do not. …which is sort of an obvious thing to say, really, since most of them couldn't "wait patiently to enter America legally" even if they wanted to.

Sure, find a way to put it more tactfully,[1] but this is one of only two positions that can be taken honestly. We can either liberalize the rules, or we can tell millions of potential legal immigrants to forget about it—America's closed.

1. Not my job—my narrow-minded agenda is to portray conservatives as heartless and xenophobic, which has turned out to be pretty easy.

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