While President Obama’s latest maneuver is sure to draw much more rhetoric and possibly some action from angered House and Senate Republicans, the true issue at hand is being completely avoided. Our perception of immigrants is fundamentally flawed and not ni line with the tradition of American democracy.
President Obama’s executive action will grant legal standing to millions of illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for a few years and who have children who are either citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents. Similarly, legislation passed in 1986 gave a pathway to citizenship for three million illegal immigrants who had resided in the nation since 1984. Both actions were designed on the premise that they would deal with illegal immigrants already living here and make it significantly harder for future illegal immigrants to enter the United States. It’s apparent that the 1986 legislation did not do much to stem the tide of illegal immigration, and it’s doubtful that President Obama’s executive action will do much either. The question then becomes how should we deal with the enormous population of illegal immigrants living within our borders? Retroactive action that legalizes large groups of people every few decades is not the way to handle this issue. Instead, we should reevaluate our views on immigrants who break the law to come to the United States.
Overwhelmingly, immigrants make the often dangerous journey to come to the United States to create better lives for themselves and for their children. Many labor in low-paying, dead end jobs to put food on the table so that their sons and daughters can take advantage of the opportunity of the United States. Hard work, self sacrifice, love of family: are these not the values that we as a nation cherish? Why then do we make it so difficult for foreigners to become legal residents of the United States? For many years, until 1924, the United States welcomed droves of immigrants; industrious people who wanted better lives for their families and who helped build the American economy to what it is today.
It’s time we reinstate a similar immigration policy that allows substantial numbers of people from less-affluent countries to legally come and work towards the American Dream. If we accept these immigrants as functioning members of our society and democracy, they will engage with their new responsibilities and will contribute in a positive way to the unfolding American story. If, however, we continue to place unreasonable limits on immigration and deal with illegal immigrants through sporadic action, these people will be forced into the shadows, denied a chance to live up to their potential as members of American society.