A Smarter Approach to Immigration

US-bound migrants head north through Mexico. (New York Times)

Today’s global political climate has made immigration one of the central topics of the 2016 Presidential race. In Europe, a mass influx of Middle Eastern refugees is straining the continent's socioeconomic fabric, and raising grave concerns about international security. In the United States, Donald Trump launched his candidacy for President with a slanderous broadside against immigrants from Mexico, fanning long-simmering resentments. Taken together, these events have sparked parallel but opposite reactions on either side of the aisle; Republican candidates are falling over themselves to prove that they are the toughest on current and would-be immigrants, while Democratic candidates seem locked in a contest to out-compassion each other. Arguments from both sides are rooted in valid points, but often creep towards extremity. Let’s find a smarter approach. First off, let's recognize that there's no point in having immigration laws without a secure border. Immigration policy should be reasonably accommodating for reasons we'll soon discuss, but our first priority should be bringing our borders under total control. Only then can we ensure that every immigrant is properly documented, which should be a public safety, economic, and administrative priority. Public safety is a definite concern: while those of us who have lived anywhere near a border know from experience that the vast majority of immigrants are honest individuals trying to support themselves and their families, a porous border provides an opportunity for drugs, contraband, and criminals to slip in among the masses of innocent people looking for a better life. This fact is illustrated not only by the scourge trafficked narcotics on our communities, but also by more violent tragedies; it is now believed that some of the perpetrators of the November 2015 terror attacks on Paris—the worst in French history—entered Europe from Syria by posing as part of the refugee exodus currently taking place there. In order to protect everyone in this country as best we can, we must exert total control over our borders, and make sure all immigrants are thoroughly vetted. In spite of these concerns, there remains a multitude of good reasons why the United States can and should continue to accept immigrants. Most of us have benefited in some way or another from immigrants, and although we often hear them described as “taking our jobs,” they also shop in our stores, eat at our restaurants, and rent our apartments. We also hear the complaint that a large portion of immigrants’ earnings are sent out of the country, to support families abroad—but if we were more accommodating of families instead of single workers, immigrant wages would remain entirely within the US economy. Indeed, the more we open our society to them, the more they and their children can be expected to become productive members of that society. But the case for admitting immigrants is based on much more than just shrewd economic calculations. We in this country have a special standing to help those less fortunate than us, to a degree that no other country can. It’s an American tradition; our country has long been defined and fueled by a strong immigrant population, and many of our ancestors immigrated to this country themselves, fleeing poverty or persecution. Rather than deny the liberty and opportunity we’ve enjoyed here to others, let’s foster new generations of patriotic Americans by helping immigrants adapt and thrive. In that spirit, we must also avoid causing undue hardship through kneejerk deportations. Immigrants who are already here illegally must be brought out of the shadows through sensible action: naturally, immigrants who have committed crimes should be deported, but the majority who have come here to live honest lives should be given priority for vetting and documentation. Many immigrants are here as economic or political refugees, and deporting them simply for entering illegally would be needlessly cruel. Critics may call it amnesty, but a secure border will make sure we are not put in this position again. There’s a farsighted strategic argument in favor or accommodating immigrants, as well. Common sense tells us that there are only two fundamental resources a country can possess: land (more specifically, the natural resources on that land)—and people. People are vital to national strength; they grow our economy by earning and spending money, they advance our society through innovation and invention, and they fight in our armed forces. To deprive America of earnest citizens would not just be morally indefensible—it would be shooting ourselves in the foot. No, in the age of ISIS, we cannot afford to let the wrong people slip into our country—but neither can we afford to let fear make us blind or callous. There are plenty of foolish ways to approach immigration, and there are smart ways. Let’s take a smarter approach.

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