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!”
From the New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
As a people we have been arguing about the consequences of immigration since our nation’s founding. Some of our ugliest national moments have dealt with issues of immigration and the passionate debate that it can embroil us in. One of our earliest controversial pieces of legislation, the Alien and Sedition Acts, revolved around inhibiting immigration and silencing President Adams’ political enemies. The Acts were used as a key bludgeon to chase President Adams from office and usher in the age ofJefferson. The fight over the Acts reveals to us that we have been arguing over immigration since the dawn of our nation, just as other anecdotes from our history serve to illustrate another point – the immigration debate has historically been a confused partisan contest.
Some fifty plus years after the passing (and then Supreme Court defeating) of the Alien and Sedition Acts, a political group rose to prominence solely on the basis of their anti-immigrant message; ironically enough they called themselves the “Know Nothings.” The Know Nothings succeeded in uniting various political factions and were able to even bring Democrats, Republicans, and Whigs together in their opposition to the anti-immigrant party. Over the next hundred or so years, our nation would struggle with separating the debate on immigration from racist stuttering and dealing with large factions of incoming Asians, Eastern Europeans, Southern Europeans, and finally immigrants from Latin America.
Today, times have changed and we now often see the debate as centering on illegal immigration because of our national media’s insistence on selling a story. We have “liberal” politicians and communities embracing the notion of “sheltering” illegal immigrants and their “conservative” counterparts embracing the idea of “law enforcement”. The problem is that just as in the past, this debate should not be a left-right issue. Immigration is an extremely important part of our nation’s development and immigrants form the very fabric of all of our communities. If we consider immigration from a historic perspective, all it took for our forefathers to come legally was the ability to purchase passage. Since we began the quota system of immigration back in the 1920s we have seen alternately racist and difficult measurements for allowing immigrants passage to theUS.
Recently, Governor Rick Perry took a lot of heat for his views on immigration reform, and it hurt him in the polls. I would suggest that we need to begin to discuss “securing our borders” and immigration as separate issues. While some immigrants commit crimes and cause problems that we must pay for, there are more who work hard simply to support their families. For the Republican primary voter, shouldn’t Governor Mitt Romney’s embracing of socialized healthcare in Massachusetts be more disconcerting than Governor Perry’s empathy for illegal immigrants? It just doesn’t make sense for the immigration debate to be framed as simply as left vs. right.