Return Immigration Policy To Its Moral Roots: Our Inalienable Rights

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June 21, 2018 by Anders Ingemarson

Children separated from their parents at the southern border. U.S. AG Jeff Sessions, absent rational arguments, defending the actions of the administration on biblical grounds. The media predictably having a field day pointing out that pro-slavery advocates and Nazi supporters used the same passage from Romans to justify their actions or inactions. POTUS subsequently backpedaling on family separation. House Republicans, meanwhile, fearing a severe backlash in the mid-term elections, trying to cobble together a compromised immigration “reform” proposal that will never reach the President’s desk. Add Dreamers in limbo, unable to plan their future with any level of certainty, and ICE raiding employers reminiscent of 1920s mobster roundups, and we need no further proof that the country’s immigration policy is a moral and practical train wreck. It wasn’t meant to be this way, folks.

Freedom and liberty loving Americans rightfully revere Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Yet, many admirers of the Declaration of Independence think that “inalienable Rights [to] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” apply exclusively to American citizens and individuals who have followed one of the “legal” paths of immigration.

These admirers are mistaken. Inalienable rights are universal. They don’t end at the Atlantic seaboard or the Pacific coastline. They apply no less south than north of the border. It doesn’t matter if you’re born in Bangalore or Beijing, in Toronto or Tijuana; having inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is inseparable from being human—your birthplace has nothing to do with it. The Founders’ vision extended to all of mankind, present and future, not only the 2.5 Million men and women who inhabited the thirteen colonies in 1776.

Today, man’s inalienable rights are under assault worldwide. In most countries the assault is business as usual—their inhabitants have never understood the concept of inalienable rights and therefore never had a defense of it. But the United States experienced a period in the 19th century when the Founders’ vision was still alive and rights violations, although by no means absent, were far more limited than today. It is not coincidental that this also was a time of almost unrestricted immigration (until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 started us down the path of violating the inalienable rights of immigrants).

Today’s challenge is to recapture the Founders’ vision. Champions of inalienable rights should advocate for the repeal of immoral laws and regulations that prohibit the free movement of men and women in and out of our country. And demand that otherwise law-abiding immigrants who are branded “illegal” for having “broken” such laws and regulations receive amnesty.

If we fully grasped that these concepts are universal we would realize that laws preventing people from coming here to pursue their happiness are immoral because they violate their inalienable rights.

Our current immigration laws and regulations are forms of segregation, not that different from the segregation laws that people across the political spectrum fought to repeal back in the 1950’s and 60’s. Instead of a sign that says “whites only”, we have put up a sign saying “American citizens and ‘legal’ residents only.” Instead of racial segregation, we have segregation based on birthplace. In principle there is no difference. Morally, there is only one viable position on immigration: end segregation; make immigration free.

Recapturing the Founders’ vision doesn’t necessarily mean arguing for immediate repeal of all anti-immigration measures. The derailment has taken a while, so we should expect that cleaning up the track will take some time. Gradually granting amnesty and increasing immigration quotas, are a couple of measures that would move us towards free immigration without opening the proverbial floodgates. There is no shortage of practical plans that would take us is in the right direction: The Red Card Solution and CATO’s handbook on immigration to mention a couple.

But in principle, the government has no right to put any on the free movement of people in and out of the country. Limiting immigration is immoral because it violates a person’s inalienable rights. In a sense the only proper immigration policy is no immigration policy—with a few of exceptions.

It is consistent with free immigration to restrict access to individuals who pose a real or potential threat to our inalienable rights:

  • people with a criminal record (according to U.S. law)
  • immigrants carrying infectious diseases with pandemic potential
  • individuals from countries we’re at war with.

Of the three, the threat of war is normally more serious. However, while for instance the threat of Ebola in 2014 was met with reasonably swift action temporarily limiting entrance into the United States from certain West African countries, rational immigration restrictions tied to enemy threats are sorely missing.

To establish rational immigration restrictions in times of enemy threats one must first identify the enemy. The U.S.’s main problem has been the refusal by administration after administration to acknowledge that America is and has been at war with fundamentalist radical Islam since at least the start of the Iran hostage crisis in 1979.

The left has shied away from naming the enemy for fear of being labeled culturally insensitive and politically incorrect; the right for fear of identifying an enemy in religious terms. On both sides, evasion has been substituted for long range, principled foreign policy action to protect the inalienable rights of Americans. Instead of identifying and fighting the true enemy—Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, the main sponsors of fundamentalist radical Islam—we have engaged in endless and pointless diplomacy, taken a beating in attack after attack on American targets at home and abroad, and started three costly peripheral wars—Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq—that have done little to weaken or crush the enemy. The last couple of years have seen some progress in practical terms with the defeat of ISIS and the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, but it remains to be seen if this is a temporary blip on the radar or a trend for the better.

Identifying the true enemy would have allowed us to put in place rational restrictions on immigration of citizens from not only Iran and Saudi Arabia, but from other countries that are sympathetic to fundamentalist radical Islam. Fundamentalist radical Islam has de facto declared war on America; it has violated and is threatening to further violate the inalienable rights of Americans. This means that citizens of countries that support or sympathize with the cause have forfeited their inalienable rights to immigrate to the United States. It is analogous to a criminal here at home forfeiting his rights while being incarcerated because of violating the rights of others through murder, theft, fraud, or other criminal offenses.

(This doesn’t mean that all citizens of countries we’re at war with should be denied entry. Many behind enemy lines are sympathetic to the U.S. It may be of benefit to the war effort to let them selectively immigrate under rigorous controls, for instance to cause the enemy serious brain-drain. Think refugee scientists and business men who fled Nazi Germany with their families.)

Americans are rightfully concerned about unprincipled, seemingly arbitrary governmental decisions to allow immigration from what is de facto enemy territory. A rational foreign policy that properly identified the enemy and dealt with him swiftly and decisively on his own turf, combined with a rational immigration policy severely restricting immigration from enemy lands, would be an important step towards changing the current anti-immigration climate.

In addition, the massive government involvement in our lives has created an environment of hostility towards immigration. But we should not blame immigrants for our domestic failures: the creation of an omnipresent welfare state violating our inalienable rights by forcing upon us retirement schemes (Social Security), healthcare schemes (Medicare, Medicaid), drug schemes (The “War on Drugs”), education schemes (“public” education), and so on. Let’s focus our energy on replacing those programs with rights respecting alternatives, not on immigrant bashing.

When addressing claims that immigrants are free-loaders at the expense of American tax-payers, or that they make our country less safe, we must always retain the vision of free immigration grounded in every man’s and woman’s inalienable rights. And we must never fail to point out that what appears on the surface an issue caused by immigration is always a symptom of a deeper problem.

President Reagan in his January 11, 1989, farewell speech to the nation said:

“…I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still….”

Admirers of our country’s founding principles should strongly consider adopting Ronald Reagan’s vision of a shining city upon a hill and open the doors to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. And tell your House Representative and Senators I said so.

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