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Immigration: Mend It Not Rend It

by Christopher Chantrill
May 27, 2007 at 5:55 pm


THE IMMIGRATION bill currently before the United States Senate is the usual farrago of band-aids and special interest goodies, trying to patch up the failure of 1986. It is, writes Peggy Noonan in unusually strong language, “a big dirty ball of mischief, malfeasance and mendacity, with a touch of class malice.”

In response to the political class’s same-old same-old, the rest of us might profitably enquire: Never mind what they want. What do we want in immigration policy?

We humans are a migratory species. Ever since the first modern hominids migrated out of Africa across the Straits of Hormuz 50,000 years ago we have wandered the earth. In the agricultural revolution about 8,000 years ago we decided to settle down on the land.

But soon enough we tired of a life of rural idiocy, and 250 years ago began a new migration--from the country to the city. It is a story that we know by heart.

By the mid-nineteenth century the migration off the land in Europe had become large enough to engage the interest of the political class. Expert opinion was divided. Some believed, following the ideas of the political economists, that the new smoking, crowded cities were engines of prosperity. Others believed that machine industry would put everyone out of a job.

Everyone was determined to do something. Some advocated spiritual revival. Some demanded universal education. Young firebrands threatened bloody revolution. Sound men proposed beneficial legislation to curb the worst excesses of the factory system. Politicians intrigued to capture the votes of the newly enfranchised workers.

By the end of the nineteenth century it was becoming clear that everyone still had a job. Not only that, wages were rising, and the new financial markets were busily allocating new capital to make even more jobs.

But the workers wanted more than a job and a wage, so they had busily created a network of institutions to protect themselves from the risks of the new industrial economy. In the United States the workers had built churches and fraternal organizations, and they forged labor unions to link together in solidarity.

The political class lacked confidence in the abilities of the workers. It wanted to control the social safety net and so it brought it into the political sector where it could keep an eye on things.

A hundred years later nothing has changed. The migration to the cities, completed satisfactorily within the boundaries of the nations of the western Europe and North America, has now gone global. Rural people all across the world are heading for the city. But they are not necessarily heading for the nearest city within their own nation. Inspired by Ronald Reagan many of them want to go straight to the source, to the place that is “still a magnet for all who must have freedom.”

And the political class still wants to control everything.

The American people are not fools. We understand that when whole peoples are on the move and change is in the air, change could mean worse. We ask: Will the flood of immigrants wreck the life that we have built here for people like us? Will the immigrants successfully assimilate? Will they take my job? Will they pay my Social Security and my Medicare?

Americans understand that by amnestying the millions of illegal immigrants we are ratcheting up the welfare state another notch. We are giving the political class more power and more money, and we know that it will use our money to buy the votes of the newly amnestied immigrants. We know that no good can come of that.

But we understand that the great human migration of the current age is a force of nature. We cannot stop it; we can only channel it and deflect it. The Department of Homeland Security reports in its Yearbook for 2005, there are 175 million people crossing our borders each year and over a million new legal permanent immigrants a year. It’s estimated that there are another 0.5 million a year of illegal immigrants of which about half simply overstay their tourist visas.

Can we keep track of every visitor? Probably not. But we can make it more expensive and inconvenient to live and work illegally in the United States. And we can do more to steer legal immigrants vigorously into the great American mainstream of work and life.

Perhaps we can amend the Senate’s “big dirty ball of mischief” to move it in this direction. And if our noble Solons resent our interference, so much the better. We will direct them to Robert K. Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership:A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. They are, after all, public servants and need to know their place.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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