In the wake of Arizona’s attempt to localize immigration enforcement, I think it’s time for Congress and the Obama administration to return to immigration reform.
If anything can justify American exceptionalism, it’s the waves of immigration that have repeatedly demonstrated that we can offer a better life to foreigners without losing our own identity. As we close and militarize the borders, we are at risk of losing the very thing that made it worth coming here. The US is by far the most cosmopolitan and pluralistic nation in the world, and we owe it to ourselves to preserve this communal identity in the face of those who would have us stand-pat on some 1950s-era self-conception. Moreover, more open borders would allow us to regain the levels of economic growth that characterized the American Dream.
Here’s what I’d like to see:
- A path to citizenship: all current undocumented inhabitants of the US deserve a share of their adopted country’s governance and welfare-state. Many have been contributing to Social Security under a fake SSN# for years without any promise of remuneration. Let’s give them a realistic path to citizenship.
- Decriminalization: shift enforcement to employers and treat undocumented workers as victims who can collect damages for substandard wages or violations of workplace safety regulations.
- A major public relations push in favor of immigration: these are hardworking folks who will help us in our time of need, and we ought not demonize them for being willing to work.
- End the administrative detention of undocumented workers which strips them of many due process rights.
- Refocus border controls on products, not people. Catch cocaine, not construction workers.
- Recognize that the US has a rich Latin@ history and culture. Recognize Spanish as an official language and make the next generation of Americans a bilingual one.
Now, I doubt we’ll see most of this, but I really don’t think there’s any publicly-justifiable reasons to reject these measures. Each and every one of these prescriptions seems rooted in the claims of justice, and the rejections seem to extend from xenophobia, racism, and a false sense of the moral entitlements due to Americans by an accident of birth.
So the question is: what’s keeping us from having this debate on the principles? Why do we only hear a few dog-whistle sound bites? It seems like immigration is precisely the kind of discussion that deliberation could help to solve, since it’s significantly less technical than health care reform and there are easily-recognized human rights being abused on a daily basis. So why the silence?