Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that you are, in all likelihood, a descendent of immigrants?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #38 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
Immigrants are as American as apple pie.
Unless you are a Native American, your ancestors traveled to this country at some point. They were immigrants (or for some, they were slaves). And whether they found quick acceptance or had to struggle for their place in American society, they came for a new life and new opportunity (something long denied to African Americans but rectified in a Civil War and Civil Rights Movement one hundred years apart), conditions that bless you to this day.
So why then do we hear about America’s “immigrant problem”? Short answer: a lot of non-citizens live among us.
Something like 1.7 million individuals entered the United States illegally during year 2020, people from 160 different countries, the most from Mexico. And about 15.5 million “undocumented” individuals (the old phrases were “illegals” or “illegal aliens”) already reside in the States, a number that has increased by 41% since 2010. More than 2 million illegal immigrants have entered the US under the current Administration.
Long answer for why we hear about America‘s “immigrant problem” is this:
We didn’t awaken one morning to discover millions of illegal immigrants had entered the country overnight. Porous borders, ineffective policy, lack of leadership—and will, political posturing, and sporadic enforcement have co-existed for a long time.
It’s strange that Americans, of all people, should find immigration befuddling, much less threatening. Ellis Island is literally in our DNA.
The foundational ideals that defined and made this country strong in the first place—freedom, opportunity, individual dignity, work, desire for a better future—all contributed to America becoming a “nation of immigrants.”
We’re about freedom, and we generally want others to experience it too.
On the other hand, most Americans acknowledge open borders are not an unmitigated political and social good. And most Americans believe American citizenship is neither meaningless, or a right-without-responsibility. Certainly, other countries of the world are highly protective of their citizenship and who they allow to enter their countries. Why shouldn’t the U.S. be at least somewhat circumspect in this important situation, even while evidencing compassion and continuing to respect immigrants?
By this logic America can and should establish systems of admission and citizenship, then expect immigrants
- to learn English,
- work for the benefits this country affords, and
- evidence a loyalty to American ideals.
If immigrants take these essential steps, then they will be welcome to share in the American dream—now, their dream.
The so-called "immigrant problem" and what has now become the immigrant rights movement are generating disagreement among religious leaders. Some argue for stiff penalties against illegal immigrants, along with beefed up efforts to secure U.S. borders. Many Catholic leaders call for citizenship grants and what they brand as “justice.” Some evangelicals weigh in via surveys saying immigrants are a burden and a threat to American values and stability.
I don’t understand religious or political leaders who make illegal immigrants sound like terrorists. It’s not too much of a stretch to speculate a handful of illegal immigrants could be connected with terrorist cells, but certainly not 15.5 million of them; nor everyone in Mexico.
And not so-called DACA kids, “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” many of whom are now young adults. These are people brought to the USA as children, when they had no influence or control. Now, these about 800,000 individuals who’ve known no other country but our own are being held in terminal legal limbo by partisan battles in Washington, DC. DACA kids are but political footballs, something inherently unappealing, unnecessary, and I think, un-American. To change DACA individuals’ status the legislative and executive branches need only act and provide them with a path to citizenship.
Frankly, categorical rejection of immigrants, as such, borders on ethnic prejudice and parochialism.
So, I’m perplexed by the strong voices, including many among conservatives and among Christians, urging Congress to “Deport them” or “Send them all back where they came from.” These responses seem motivated more by nativism, bigotry, and fear than concern for American wellbeing.
Still, I recognize our countries’ legitimate need to better police its borders and to assure as best it can that the American people remain secure. I recognize some immigrants are not “pulling their weight,” are “costing American taxpayers,” are unwilling to work, and may be involved in criminal activity. Then again, the same can be said for too many Americans-born-n-raised.
Somehow, what one might think would be a fairly, straightforward proposition:
- define American citizenship,
- put in place a process by which legal immigrants may become citizens, and
- police borders to assure American security is preserved—is not straightforward at all.
In fact, it’s a political quagmire.
Meanwhile, some 80% of illegal immigrants come to this country, stay, pay taxes, maybe gain educations, but don’t complete a citizenship process.
Children complicate the matter further. Some observers claim pregnant women enter the States illegally, then birth their children on American soil so the children will automatically earn “birthright citizenship.” These “anchor babies” make it possible for Mom to stay.
In frustration, some politicians are suggesting this so-called “birth tourism” be stopped by changing the longstanding definition of citizenship stated in the Fourteenth Amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”
All this is a rather sad state of affairs getting to the heart of the fact that Americans no longer agree on what an American is. Some people, responding with compassion or other motives to the millions of illegal immigrants already here, seem to want to blithely throw the concept away as if it has no value. What of citizenship? Why does it matter? We’re all one and one for all? Anyone may come, the government will pick up the tab, and somehow it will all work out in the end.
It’s a wonderful utopian vision however misguided and ungrounded in reality.
Ultimately, “the government” is us. We pick up the tab, and truth be told, a system built on the backs of a few to pay for the many simply doesn’t work.
A recent comprehensive fiscal cost study, illegal aliens are likely imposing a net fiscal burden of at least $143.1 billion, an increase of approximately $9.4 billion over the past year.
In terms of national interest, defining American citizenship allows it to become a boon and blessing to all. It makes sense. Other countries define what it means to be a citizen. Why can’t America do this without being accused of bigotry, racism, or worse?
On the other hand, the anti-birthright citizenship movement is a kneejerk reaction that undermines some of the most precious principles in the American story. Nearly all Americans in this immigrant-nation come from somewhere else. It’s part of the genius of America’s free and open society, a land of opportunity, a land where one worships, works, and pursues happiness freely. Progress and plenty must be earned, but they are open to all. Lawyering away a baby’s citizenship because the mother is from another country flies in the face of what it means to be an American, not to mention the fact such a law would create an enforcement nightmare.
While both Republicans and Democrats posture on Capitol Hill offering quick “solutions,” the “immigrant problem” calls for statesmanship, rationality, and measured response.
Immigration is nothing new. We’ve developed reasonable legal processes before in our history. We can do it again. At a minimum, Congress should do the following:
1--Recognize that the vast majority of immigrants do not want to come to the United States to blow it up. They want to come to secure the prospects of a better life for them and their children. They want freedom. So, stop demonizing immigrants for short-term political gain.
2--Secure American borders from those who wish to do us harm. Reasonable response proposals already exist, awaiting leaders who can present and implement the ideas. Democrats need to get their heads out of the sand and acknowledge a real-world challenge exists. Republicans need to quit with extremist ideas like electrified fences.
3--Develop a guest worker program that makes sense and is easy to administer. Everyone would win, immigrants, businesses, the American economy.
4--Create a process through which illegal immigrants presently in this country can work systematically toward American citizenship and require them to do so. Workable reform proposals sit gathering dust awaiting Representatives and Senators with common sense and moral courage.
5--Develop a better approach to teaching English as a second language and require immigrants seeking American citizenship to enroll, learn, and pass conversational English tests. This is not a form of cultural imperialism. It’s a practical economic and social necessity. Those who do not learn English are forever hindered in their ability to better their condition and support themselves.
The recently named “immigrants rights movement” needs to demonstrate leadership and established values as well.
6--Convey immigrants’ desire to become Americans, not simply legally recognized residents of the United States. There’s a huge difference. Recognize assimilation is not a bad thing and doesn’t mean a person must reject his or her heritage. It means the person who wants to become a citizen works to develop basic knowledge and skills allowing him or her to function productively in this free country.
I believe America’s shores should remain as open to freedom-loving and freedom-seeking people as, in a day of terrorism, we can make them. I do not believe that immigrants “drain our economy” or that they are “threats to the American way of life.” Perhaps a few maybe, but the flipside is that most immigrants bring talent, dreams, work ethic, and hope. Immigrants enrich the American culture and economy with their presence and contributions.
I know it sounds hokey, but I still believe with Emma Lazarus, whose poem graces a plaque within the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, that America remains a special place on earth:
"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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com.
And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
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