Monday, December 6, 2010
Be Not Afraid! Amnesty is Not a Four Letter Word
Harry Reid and the Democrats are hoping to use this lame duck session of congress to deliver on some promises made to Hispanic Americans who helped many of them keep their jobs in the last election. This week, congress is scheduled to vote on the DREAM ACT, which would offer a path to legal residency to the children of illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States before the age of 16. While I am not hopeful, I am rooting for the Democrats.
This act represents a small step towards infusing sanity and justice into our broken immigration system. Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, says, “The DREAM ACT represents a practical, fair, and compassionate solution for thousands of young persons in our nation who simply want to reach their God-given potential and contribute to the well-being of our nation.”
The DREAM ACT, which was originally Utah Republican Orrin Hatch in 2001, used to enjoy bipartisan support from moderate Republicans like, Senator John McCain, but with enthusiastic Tea Parties making illegal immigration among their top priority, many Republicans, worried about keeping their seats, are reluctant to attach their names to anything that looks like amnesty. That’s unfortunate because supporting the DREAM ACT is not only the compassionate, moral choice, it is consistent with many conservative principles.
Among the many philosophical questions that currently divide American society is the source of human rights. There is the theory of positive law, which claims that rights come from the state, which represents the will of the people; this is generally a view embraced by those on the left. On the other hand, there is the classical liberal view, which says that rights are bestowed by the Creator and self-evident in nature. From that perspective, human laws simply codify natural law. This is the view of our nation’s founders and many conservatives claim to embrace this view.
However, on the issue of immigration, the Republican leadership has adopted the view that human rights are immaterial to the debate; they claim that the only relevant moral question is that immigration laws have been broken. Web forums are filled with angry posts by Americans who insist that the issue is simple. They argue that one only needs to understand the difference between the words legal and illegal and that any attempt to create pathways to legal residency simply rewards illegal behavior.
However, there is a law far greater than our federal immigration law. It is the law that motivates each one of us to get up in the morning. It is the law of survival. The impulse to carve a better future for oneself and one’s children is a defining feature of human behavior. It is this impulse that motivated the pilgrims, the Jamestown settlers, the Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine and every group of people who believed that the American project offers them a superior shot at the pursuit of happiness than their alternatives. Any law that stands in the way of such a basic human impulse is simply begging to be flouted. If obedience to this impulse was noble when the pilgrims acted on it, is there any reason why it is less noble when it is exercised by Mexicans?
Conservative commentators, like Michelle Malkin, scold these children of illegals for failing to follow the proper immigration procedure. “Get in the back of the line!” she says. Fair enough. Human impulse does not permit anyone to act as she wishes. Certainly, society must have order. Nations must be able to regulate the flow of migration, at the very least, keep track of who is and who is not within its borders. But this nation, given its immigration history, has a unique responsibility to create paths that allow migrants to establish legal residency. There are currently no other provisions in the law for those who would benefit from the DREAM ACT to apply for legal residency. Every attempt to create pathways for legal residency is called amnesty and obstructed. The Republicans keep telling people to get in lines that do not exist while blocking efforts to open up such lines. The Republicans hinder attempts to expand guest worker programs, lotteries, HB1 visas, etc.; they block legal channels while claiming to support legal immigration. If the Republican Party wants to avoid permanently losing the Hispanic vote, it needs to show that it is indeed the party of legal immigration.
In addition, the conversatives generally support the free market. Yet, in the case of the labor market, it is those on the right who stand in the way of the free exchange of labor. Immigrants come to America because there is a demand for their labor. Americans want cheap fruits and vegetables, cheap daycare, and cheap lawn services. We want low prices at Wal-Mart everyday! And it is that demand that keeps the flow of immigrants coming into this country. Attempts to suppress those market forces won't cause them to disappear, they simply go underground.
It is tempting during this type of high unemployment and rising national debt to scapegoat immigrant labor but that is not only unfair, it is flawed thinking. First of all, while immigrants compete for jobs with native-born Americans, that competition brings down the price of the goods and services that we use. These lower prices increase our purchasing power so that we can purchase more goods and services. Although the individual who loses a job to an immigrant may be bitter, a competitive market places produces a net benefit for the rest of the economy. Secondly, immigrants are not just workers, they are consumers. Their consumption of basic goods, like housing, food and clothing create jobs. In fact, these activities are much more stimulating to the economy than any federal plan that congress and the president can conjure up. The Congressional Budget Office reports that implementation of the DREAM ACT would cut deficits by $1.4 billion in the next decade by increasing tax revenues. With the coming retirement of the baby boomers, entitlements programs like Social Security and Medicare can only benefit from an influx of young workers paying into the system. Conservative politicians would be well aware of these basic economic principles if fear of Tea Parties were not clouding their minds.
The Democrats have their own fears. They are afraid of being accused of embracing amnesty. It is a great evidence of their fecklessness that they have allowed the Republicans to turn a perfectly noble word like amnesty into a slur. Just what is wrong with amnesty? The word “amnesty” simply means a state-issued pardon, and it is disappointing that a blessed and purportedly Christian nation is having so much trouble with the word “pardon.”
Sometimes, we are called to pardon the worst amongst us but America, this time you are in luck. Instead of pardoning the worst among us, you are being asked to pardon “the poor, the tired, the huddled masses longing to be free.” You are being asked to give a generation of young people, who are already your neighbors, an opportunity to participate fully in this wonderful human experiment. America, you are not being robbed. You are being honored.