Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Has it happened to you?

All your life you've politically been somewhere between Adlai Stevenson and Abbie Hoffman and then one day you begin to notice some leakage in the proud Goodyear blimp of your ideological constancy. You find yourself diverging, even lurching, from the path of truth and right, or rather, truth and left. You assume that this is merely a single-issue fluke, and not the beginning of some gradual abandonment of a political belief structure that you no longer find habitable. Then again, maybe this is how it started for the neocons. Are you losing faith?

Or was it just all those Mexican flags waving in the air that struck an otherwise dormant nativist nerve?

Hi there. My name is Bob (hello, Bob) and I'm a liberal who's having trouble with the intractably knotty issue of what is known as illegal immigration or undocumented entry or cultural invasion, depending on where and with whom you find yourself trapped into discussing the topic.

There are a dizzying array of sociological, economic and political aspects to this subject. Most of the major ones have been endlessly argued and rhetorically flogged far beyond my ability or desire to contribute anything: the morality of "rewarding criminality" by allowing border-sneakers, and those who hire them, to go unpunished; the logistical impossibility of actually enforcing the law; the salutary or devastating effect on the economy, and so on.

There is, however, one note in all this contention that seems to strike nobody but me as discordant. It's a phrase that has been invoked so endlessly as to have become a graven truism, but one that is not altogether accurate, and perhaps disingenuous.

"We are a nation of immigrants."

Are we, really?
And in any case, so what?

To begin with, albeit at the risk of gross oversimplification, the United States is a nation of people mostly like me, at least in one sense: I am not an immigrant. I was born here. So were my parents, and their parents, and their parents. Beyond that, I'm genealogically unclear, but the point is that while my residency here is the result of some prior migration by my forebears, my family has been here long enough to render the concept of immigration inapplicable. For most of us, it simply loses all relevance after two or three generations. The US is the result of immigration, but it is not a nation of immigrants.

Unless you're a rigid historical purist, of course--and in that case, the fact is that every nation is a nation of immigrants, with the exception of wherever you believe the human race first originated, whether that be sub-Saharan Africa (evolutionist), the Garden of Eden (creationist), or the spot upon which our alien progenitors from a distant galaxy first deposited our spawn (Tom Cruise). In any case, every other part of the earth was settled by humans migrating from that origin. Residents of the US merely happen to inhabit the last major hunk of real estate to open up in this global human diaspora.

And even if all Americans are "the children of immigrants," what has that fact to do with the subject at hand, which is the tidal wave of humanity that seems to keep flooding onto our shores from the south without benefit of either invitation or permission?

I reject the description of these understandably ambitious people as "illegals," which is as prejudicial and degrading as "illegitimate" was when it was used to refer to those born out of wedlock. Nevertheless, the word "immigration" as we use and understand it implicitly includes the element of some officially sanctioned procedure. The dictionary may define it neutrally, as the mere movement of people from hither to yon to take up residency, but for all practical purposes our definition is far more limited. If you go by Webster's, "immigration" is as much what the Mongols did to China and the Huns did to Europe as it is what legions of Irish and Italians did in crossing the Atlantic a century ago. That's one reason we don't go by Webster's.

I don't mean to even remotely equate the current cross-border phenomenon with the economic ruin and cultural devastation that have historically characterized such hostile mass migrations. But neither does this phenomenon equate with the specific and legally defined process of "immigration." And trying to classify those who reject that process and enter the country illegally as "immigrants" makes no more sense than referring to shoplifters as "customers."

Moreover, the fact that our population has been largely inflated by immigrants is in no way a persuasive argument that this trend be allowed to continue. The one nation on earth that most thoroughly embodies the "nation of immigrants" concept--Israel--also happens to be the strongest and most convincing argument against open borders and the unrestricted flow of foreign nationals across them.


Blogger ....J.Michael Robertson said...

We are a nation of invaders, rejects, speculators, entrepreneurs and a privileged few who were able to hire out the killing, cheating and general expropriation that spread the flag from sea to shining sea. Some of us have been here so long, so loyal to place and clan, that the intermarriage has just been something fierce, resulting in what I believe one might describe as a congenital tendency to bleed for our country -- perhaps more in the Hapsburgian sense than is conducive to a long and happy life.

May 8, 2006 at 11:34 PM  

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