There is a large political division in the U.S. not regarding immigration to the U.S. On the one side are those who label themselves as ‘liberal’ who believe a nation should have open borders. In essence, they say that anyone who wants to come to the U.S. should be able to just walk or fly into the nation, stay and be given and enjoy all the benefits that citizenship has traditionally provided.
On the other side are those who typically label themselves as conservatives who say all immigration must be strictly controlled and only those who will ‘benefit the nation’ should be allowed in, and any illegal immigrants currently in the nations should be removed.
Those are the two extremes of both sides and each person who leans towards the extreme position on ‘their side’ are those who have a lot of trouble having a reasonable conversation with those on the other side of the issue.
The question is, is there an optimal or truly reasonable belief or policy regarding immigration to the U.S.? Let’s explore some ideas on this issue and try and find some common ground.
First, let’s look at perhaps the most important moral or ethical issue. A person or people can have two basic viewpoints or general approaches on treating other people. They can be either kind, compassionate, forgiving and willing to give the benefit of the doubt (gracious). Or, they can be unkind, un-sympathetic, unwilling to forgive and quick to judge harshly and put rules and law over compassion.
I am not saying the two sets of characteristics are entirely mutually exclusive - and sometimes the approach should vary depending upon the attitude of the person you are dealing with - but they do reflect two basic ways a person can tend to be. I would suggest that the former way of being is much more in line with the universal ethic given by The Light of the world of “treat others the way you want to be treated”. I would also suggest that this personal ethic or viewpoint or attitude or desire to treat other people is very much key in this discussion about immigration.
In terms of finding common ground, I think both sides can agree that any group of people who voluntarily come together have a right to agree on rules that they all agree to follow. This would apply to a small group of people who are neighbors or a larger group of people who form a nation/state. Whatever type of leadership/government they form, the people who make up the group should be able to agree on rules or laws that all people of that group must follow. Examples of rules or laws that people agree to would include that murder is wrong or stealing is wrong or unjustified assault is wrong, or lying to group leadership in order to get benefits is wrong, that the leadership should receive some compensation for their work, etc.
The basic principal to viewing and managing immigration should be this one – that any group of people should have the right to vet new prospective members to ensure they are willing to abide by the rules of the group.
If one can agree to the basic principle, then truly open borders - meaning there is no ability to vet people coming into the group - simply will not work. For example, imagine you have formed a neighborhood group with your neighbors and have agreed upon rules for things people can do or not do with or one their properties. Let’s say that one of the rules is that a neighbor cannot build a pig farm on their property due to the horrible smell it would create. Would it be fair and right if a person who was part of that group wanted to sell their house to a person who would not adopt the neighborhood rules and wanted to build a pig farm?
On a more fundamental level, open borders are not likely to work well since human beings are not basically good. No borders would be fine if all people were basically good, meaning they are not heavily influenced by a selfish nature, but that is not reality as is evidenced each day in this world. For example, if the U.S. switched to no-borders or purely open borders, why would not the violent drug cartel people from Mexico and Central America want to come be closer to their customers or deliver their drugs more directly with less hassle and risk?
If one group/nation is perceived as having lots of stuff that people want (especially money and material security or people agreeing to good rules), then isn’t there going to be many people wanting to join that group? And why would it be reasonable to believe that only decent people will want to immigrate to that group/nation which is perceived as having more money and material security than other groups/nations? In fact, that would be an unreasonable belief. For example, thieves don’t prefer to steal from poor people for they have nothing worth stealing.
The fact is that many people in this world would like to live in the U.S. due to the money making opportunities and material abundance and relative freedom of this nation. So the question is, what would be the best way to handle the many millions of people who want to immigrate to this nation? Almost all reasonable people agree that the current system is not working well and is generating many problems.
This author provides the following solution.
The best ethical characteristics for people managing or influencing immigration policy would be people who are both law abiding as well as kind, compassionate, forgiving and willing to give the benefit of the doubt (gracious).
Any group of people should be able to vet prospective new members who wish to join their group. The U.S. is a group of people – a nation state. Therefore, it is reasonable for the citizens of the U.S. to vet new prospective members/citizens.
People who are bad – they don’t respect rules or laws; they are quick to lie or steal or hurt others to get what they want; they don’t believe they should have to work to contribute to the group, but rather just take from others – will always be destructive to any group and thus should not be welcomed into any group of people who want what is good and right and a group ought to be able to reject those people and prevent them from joining the group.
If I really want to join another group of people because I judge the current group of people I am with or living among as deficient compared to the group I want to go and be a part of - then I ought to be willing to adopt the new groups ways of believing and doing things. In particular, if they speak another language, then I ought to learn that language in order to communicate with the members of my new group.
On the basis of those four basic principles, a nation should build its immigration policies and process.
The following would be process requirements for people wishing to join the group which is the nation state of the U.S.
First, that people coming into a nation are decent, rule or law following human beings and to prove that, they agree to a background check with the nation they are immigrating from. Furthermore, they agree to a probation period of X years. Any criminal activity within the first X years of being in the U.S. will result in immediate deportation with no chance to return. Those caught trying to return will be incarcerated in a very minimalist, unpleasant prison until they agree to not enter the country again.
Second, that the people coming in will agree to live by the rules and laws of the nation they want to immigrate to. That is to say that the laws of the nation they immigrate to will be freely adopted and followed and any beliefs or traditions that they hold from their previous group that contradict or nullify those laws will be rejected.
Third, that they agree to speak the official language of the nation they want to immigrate to. If they do not speak English, they will have up to X months (duration to learn will vary based on age and ability) to get basically proficient in English. You can never achieve unity on any matter if you cannot communicate with your neighbor.
Forth, that if they cannot find work within six months and cannot support themselves (that is they ask for group/government money to live), they will start working for the local government doing whatever work needs to be done in order to earn the money they receive from the group/nation/government.
Obviously if there is a group/nation that is perceived as better than where a person currently lives, they will likely want to immigrate to that group/nation. That, combined with the fact that people do not naturally want to submit to the rule of law, will result in many attempting to enter the group/nation wrongfully or illegally. Therefore, if the group/nation does not have a way to prevent wrongful or illegal entry, the proposed system will not work. In other words, if millions of people choose to ‘storm the weak, ineffective gate’; and by so doing they reject the rightful process that currently exists to process immigrants; they are not exhibiting what is necessary to be a good and helpful member of the group. In other words, they are not respecting the prospective group’s new member process, and thus they are demonstrating a lack of discipline or a lack of concern about the rules necessary to be a good member of the group.
As I said earlier in the article, showing compassion to people is really important. Equally important is that the people receiving compassion appreciate it and deeply respect the receiving peoples/groups rules for how the group works and the principals that make the group good and valuable. I would recommend erring on the side of letting more people in but with a simple vetting process as generally described in this brief article.