On Thanksgiving next week, many of us will remember how God
blessed, and some Indians helped, Pilgrim immigrants to America. Next month
comes Christmas, when many of us celebrate the most sensational immigration
of all time, the birth of Jesus.
Those events are worth considering as we examine the arguments
about immigration today. Is it possible to take wise precautions against
both terrorism and future disunity while honoring the pro-immigration flavor
of American and biblical history? Let's look at the four major types of
Type one criticizes not the immigrants themselves but a culture
no longer committed to helping them assimilate. Some schools do a poor job
of teaching immigrant children English, and thus limit their social and
economic mobility. Some schools emphasize America's faults, instead of
teaching that this country has accorded immigrants liberty and opportunity
unprecedented in world history. Concerns about what we teach immigrants are
valid if America is to become not a divided nation, but one still living out
the phrase e pluribus unum.
Type two arguments emphasize homeland security. These also are
generally valid. Given the backgrounds of the Sept. 11 perpetrators, extra
caution is in order when reviewing visa applications from countries that
grow terrorists and do not crack down on them. The federal government must
make our borders more than paper lines if it is to fulfill its
constitutional function of providing for the common defense.
Type three arguments that favor restricting immigration to limit
population growth are not as strong. Sure, we are to be stewards of God's
creation and not overcrowd it, but this country still has a wealth of
abundantly wide-open spaces. Urban areas are congested, but many small towns
and rural areas are facing depopulation. Ironically, the doors for
immigration and abortion opened in the 1960s at around the same time, and in
some ways the number of immigrants has merely replaced many of the babies
who were killed before birth.
Type four anti-immigration arguments are really anti-immigrant
We don't want those people, some
conservatives say or suggest: They're not our kind.
Among the murmurs: They're not used to democratic government, so they'll be
easy prey for potential dictators. They're used to big government, so
they'll vote for Democrats. They'll undermine America's Christian
This argument goes against American historical experience, which
shows that those who have been denied liberties usually appreciate them the
most. Sure, Democrats have gained most of the Hispanic vote in elections
past, but Republicans should realize that they have also asked for those
votes far more fervently. A survey by Latino Opinions shows two-thirds of
Hispanics identifying themselves as pro-life. Now that George W. Bush is
making Hispanic outreach a prime GOP task, voting patterns are beginning to
reflect Latino values.
Conservatives should pay more attention to surveys showing that
three-fourths of Latinos, compared to 60 percent of Americans overall, say
that religion (almost always Christianity) provides considerable guidance in
their lives. Korean-Americans are 10 times more likely to be Christian than
Buddhist, and other immigrants from Asia also often have Christian
Native-born Christians worried about Christianity losing support
in the United States should look in the mirror. Two Zen Buddhist centers I
visited recently were run by white Anglo-Saxon former Protestants. The
Catholic priests involved in sex scandals uncovered last year and this
rarely have Hispanic names. Liberal denominations that are losing members --
Episcopalians, United Methodists and others -- have been rocked by
dissension over ordaining gays, not accepting immigrants.
Some Americans have other anti-immigration arguments: High-tech
jobs taken by H-IB visa holders when citizens are unemployed. Acceptance of
illegal immigrants undercutting the rule of law. These questions need
serious examination, but with an eye to remaining hospitable. "Give me your
tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," this
country said a century ago, at a time when America was a poorer country than
it is now. Today, we can still stand for hope, as we teach immigrants
English but not the nuances of the welfare system. We can show the world how
to take precautions against terrorism without walling ourselves in.