The Right Way to Immigrate

Posted: Jul 18, 2014 12:01 AM

Immigration, you may have noticed, is very much in the news these days. And that seems unlikely to change.

“We are not going to stop sending people, and you guys are not going to be able to stop them from getting in,” a Honduran military officer warned The Washington Post. And Honduras isn’t the only starting point. Migrants -- many of them children -- are also flowing north from El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries.

In the last six months, American border patrol agents have picked up some 50,000 children. That’s ten times higher than the number caught at the dawn of the Obama presidency in 2009.

They’re coming to escape poverty and fighting at home. But they’re also under the impression that, if they can make it to the border, they’ll be allowed to stay. “Many people are saying the U.S. has approved a law to receive children,” a 37-year-old mother of four told the Post. “The U.S. is an advanced country, and I want my children to study there. I want them to have a better life.”

Both parts of that statement are reasonable readings of American policy.

In 2012, President Obama told his secretary of homeland security that she shouldn’t enforce the immigration laws against certain young people who had been brought to the U.S. as children.

Obama meant for the order to apply to illegal immigrants who’ve been here for years; many of them don’t even speak Spanish and have no living memory of their home country. But the move was a vast overreach of his presidential powers. And the nuance in his message clearly didn’t get through to many would-be migrants.

The second part of the woman’s statement is true as well. It may be politically incorrect to say so, but life is simply better in the U.S. than it is in most of Central America. We enjoy a higher standard of living, better schools, more peaceful streets. The illegal migrants have reason to believe they’re coming to a better life, or at least getting one for their children.

But here’s the hard part: The U.S. isn’t required to provide that better life for them. A country is, literally, defined by its borders. It must control the territory inside those borders, but it must also control who is allowed across.

So far this year, we’ve seen the immigration system break down along our southern border. But the news isn’t all bad. When the immigration system works, it creates new American citizens. That happened just last month at the National Archives building in Washington, D.C.

Diana Cornish came here -- legally -- more than 25 years ago from the island nation of Mauritius. She’d put down deep roots. “My son was born in this country, my husband is from here,” she says. But she was able to take her residency somewhat for granted, until she returned home to Mauritius in 2007 for a family funeral.

It took several months for her to sort out the paperwork to be allowed to return, and she decided to become a U.S. citizen. The exam, she says, wasn’t difficult. Then again, she’d been living here for decades, so that only makes sense.

When the day of the ceremony arrived, she says her family was overwhelmed. “‘Mom, I didn’t realize that was such a big deal,’ my son said. And I said it is a big deal!” she said. The fact that Michelle Obama and her retinue of Secret Service agents were also on hand lent an air of excitement to the day.

Cornish isn’t sure why she waited so long to take the oath. But the trip to Mauritius certainly showed her how important the U.S. has become in her life. “This country is my family now,” she says. And she’ll be eligible to help select Barack Obama’s successor. “I can vote. After 25 years, I can vote! It’s a big deal for me.”

The moral of the story is that the United States remains open to immigration and gives immigrants a unique chance to join our national family. All we demand in return is that they follow our laws and procedures, learn about our history (Cornish names George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among her favorite presidents) and swear fealty to our Constitution.

Our immigration problems won’t be solved by some 1000-plus-page “comprehensive” bill in Washington. They’ll be fixed by smaller, more focused measures. These include sealing off the southern border (funny that so few Canadians flooding across our northern border) and enforcing existing laws.

Oh, and they’ll be solved by adding Americans like Cornish. People who play by the rules and appreciate the chance to join our American family.