Monday, June 05, 2006

Are They Even Immigrants?

Are They Even Immigrants?

We are a nation of immigrants. A "melting pot." Every one of us, including those who consider themselves and their ancestors indigenous, immigrated here from somewhere else. Anti-immigrant or nativist tendencies are therefore rare. But. There must be a balance between the needs of those who have made their lives here and those who want to come here. We can divide that latter group in two. We will call the first part immigrants. The other part, for lack of a better word, are aliens. What is the difference?

An immigrant is a person who wants to make a better life in a new country. An alien wants a better life, and wants to use our country to do it. It is easy to tell the difference. An immigrant is proud of America, learns the language, follows the rules. An alien flies the flag of a foreign power, sends money back to his homeland, and waits for any opportunity to go back. To visit. For once he gets here, he often wants to stay.

That is the situation as it is today. Immigrants face a draconian set of laws and regulations - obstacles set up precisely because We the People value citizenship so highly, and do not allow it to be given to others lightly. In short, we make immigrants prove themselves worthy, before we bestow all the blessings of liberty upon them.

Most Americans have no idea how difficult a course it is that we have placed in the immigrant's path. Draconian is not too strong a word for it. For the penalty for failing to do something required, or missing a deadline, by even a single day, is expulsion, often forever. For minor infracions, up to a decade. If they intend to become citizens, and most immigrants do, they must learn the language, and our history. A new citizen knows more American history than most native born High School graduates. We place time limits and deadlines upon them, and if they fail to perform up to standards, they are out. Some immigrants become aliens when this happens, but most of them do their utmost to qualify. They are, after all, immigrants, and their fondest wish is to become Americans.

It is an almost uniquely American phenomenon, but an immigrant can become an American. One can not go to France and become French, nor to Italy and become Italian. nor to India, and become Indian. These, and most other countries have so-called second generation immigrants, with nominal citizenship, even voting rights, but significant barriers remaining to what we call naturalization. It takes several generations before an immigrant can become Mexican. But an immigrant to the United States of America can come here, and within ten years can become an American. A citizen with all the rights and responsibilities of any other American. Maybe with an accent, but an American nonetheless.

So we do not just confer upon immigrants a legalistic protection scheme, but we welcome them into our family. We therefore, quite properly, have certain requirements before we do so. We require, for instance, that immigrants not be common criminals in their previous life. We will not allow those with contaigious disease to immigrate. We expel those who violate our laws. Other than the President and the Senate, the vast majority of Americans likes these things the way they are.

If we can agree that the one million or less who are newly arriving immigrants each year are not enough, then, and only then, we should increase the various programs that allow them entry. But aliens? Illegal aliens? First thing, and the consensus exists for this right now, close the border. Next, and this is more tricky, we need to get control of those who come here legally, and overstay their vises. Official estimates puts the number of these at as much as half of our illegal alien problem. Then we must stop the ease with which aliens can get lawful employment. Once we have done these things, the flow of new aliens will slow down, and we can decide what to do with those who have slipped between the cracks. It is entirely reasonable to stop the bleeding before beginning the surgery. Senate S.2611 would attempt to do both. We can not. We must not. Immigrants follow the laws, and pay their taxes. Aliens do neither. We must treat them differently. We need immigrants. Aliens, we do not.