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Phil-osophically Speaking

The Burden Of Liberty

Rising from the very depths of America’s soul, the words have a power all their own.  There is something mighty and great in their sentiments; an unconquerable truth that cannot be defeated or subdued. Words so wedded to the soul of America, that the merest reflection invests them with grandeur and magnanimity:


Give me your tired, your poor


Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free


The wretched refuse of your teeming shore


Send these, the homeless, tempest –tost to me,


I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Emma Lazarus died almost a year to the day of the Statue of Liberty’s official dedication on Oct. 28, 1886. Her life spanned just 38 years but her words, singed by lightning, burn on with the immortality of the stars that silently illuminate the great arc of eventide. 

The first sight my father saw as his boat entered New York Harbor, a vision shared by millions of other immigrants, was the great lady towering above the foaming, restive green and blue waters that swirled about in seeming homage to her unimpeachable regal bearing. He would never forget it or the sanctuary it represented for those, as the poem says, yearning to breathe free.


But dreams can be ethereal and dissoluble things, like droplets of dew burned away in the summer heat of reality. High ideals and basic realities can be a stormy and turbulent sea to navigate as is readily evidenced by the theatrical fireworks over the debate regarding immigration reform. This is because the very wording of the Declaration of Independence, the nation’s founding doctrine, echoes with worldwide implications. Its primary expositor, Thomas Jefferson, purposely departed from his muse John Locke when he boldly stated that all men, not just all Englishmen, are created equal. With one stroke of a pen, the American dream embodied the aspiration of the world, a truth without geographical boundaries or borders that Emma Lazarus so stirringly invokes.


America may well be a welcoming melting pot for many races and creeds, its message universal, but it is still one sovereign nation with its own laws, customs and culture. This is why immigration is such a divisive issue. America serves as a refuge for the oppressed and those seeking opportunity, but it also must hold fast to its role as a sovereign nation. A nation that neglects the integrity of its borders, while remaining a magnet for the rest of the world will cease, over time, to be a sovereign nation. This is the crux of the debate over the immigration bill, which legalizes millions of illegal aliens domiciled here in the United States. After much wrangling and little deliberation, the immigration bill confers amnesty on illegal immigrants already living in the country in return for suspiciously vague promises for more stringent border security sometime in the hazy future.


This is a terribly unhappy outcome especially since so much of it is colored by political ambition, since newly naturalized Americans preponderantly favor the Democratic Party.

But it is more than this.  The immigration bill is self-defeating in that it perpetuates the problem it was supposed to solve. Namely, that any amnesty will thwart rather than

encourage more illegal immigration. But this is exactly what the bill will lead to, more illegals. According to the Congressional Budget Office, passage of the bill will bring 10 million more immigrants (both legal and illegal) to this country over the next decade than it did the previous one.  The CBO also projects that passage of the immigration bill would slightly increase economic growth in the U.S. and reduce the deficit (I’m skeptical) but that’s hardly enough to off the burdens it will bring. 


While restrictions should not be based on race, the equation must factor in that these new immigrants will be drawing benefits from our most expensive Federal programs, specifically Social Security and Medicare. While some benefits for immigrants will be curtailed, how long do you think this restriction will last among ambitious politicians hungry for votes? This will not only burden the economy in terms of increased spending, even if it would at the same time generate more revenue from payroll taxes to fund Social Security and Medicare.


But there is another problem. Doubling the rate of immigration over the next decade will hurt efforts of assimilation for those immigrants who already live here. The upshot will not be a more cohesive society but a fissiparous one, perhaps Balkanizing portions of the country. Arguments that even legal immigration may be too high have been drowned out in a chorus of derision by those who envision a more liberalized and human society pointing out that this is, after all, a nation of immigrants. 


But is it really?  The late political scientist Samuel P. Huffington, in his book Who Are We, challenges this assumption. America’s founders, Huffington argues, were not immigrants but settlers who came to this continent to establish a new society as opposed to migrating from one society to another as immigrants typically do today. In addition, most of America’s immigrants come from one country, where it is geographically advantageous to emigrate and that of course is Mexico. Too many immigrants from a single country at the exclusion of others are not beneficial in inviting either economic growth or even more to the point, social cohesion.


In gainsaying this analysis I do not wish to denigrate the accomplishments of immigrants. America should remain and I hope it does remain a beacon for the world. I’m deeply sympathetic to the plight of immigrants who want what we all want, a better life for themselves and their children. Circumstances are not infrequently the sovereign of people’s lives and I’ve often whispered to myself that plaintive little prayer: But for the grace of God there go I.


But while empathy has its place, and I would argue an important one, balance and common sense are equally as important. Additional immigration will almost certainly depress wages of the immigrants who are already here. A new amnesty will undermine respect for the rule of law unless there is a political solution to reduce illegal immigration and the only way to do that is to secure the borders. If national cohesion is to be maintained we need to tamp down our interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination against national origin. It is the reason we have bilingual voting and education, which is fine when the ultimate goal is self-sufficiency in English. But as William Bennett noted when he was Secretary of Education, bilingual education too often ends up enhancing a student’s knowledge of their native language and culture at the expense of the English language and American culture. English would also assure communication between different immigrant groups uniting them as Americans.


America is the most successful multicultural society in the history of the world, but the things that made it so are being eroded away by misguided progressive reforms. I’m not sure who said it, but I do know it’s worth saying time and again: America should be color blind but not linguistically deaf. Securing our borders and our native language must be an essential part of any immigration bill.