Living in a border state, I am constantly reminded of the need for immigration. Here in Tucson, we see the myriad of ways which immigration has shaped the culture; our entire Southwest identity is a melting pot of Hispanic, Native American, and Old West subcultures. But if you would permit me to put things in perspective, unless you are 100% Native American, then you are either an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants. For example, my ancestors were immigrants: my father's family arrived from Ireland in 1858 as refugees of the Great Famine, and the patriarch of my mother's family travelled to the fledgling American Colonies as an indentured servant in 1807.
No person of European, Asian, Latin American, or African descent can lay claim to native status in North America; (although if you go back as far as possible, even the ancestors of the 'Native Americans' migrated from somewhere else). Nevertheless, it pains me to see people who suggest that we should close our borders. To do so would be ludicrous; immigration has been and always will be the lifeblood of the United States.
However, immigration must be a legal process, and those who do not adhere to the letter of the law must not be allowed to continue residing here. To be fair, the United States' path to citizenship is long and difficult, but that is no excuse for violating the laws by which our nation is governed.
For those people who insist on incorrectly labeling illegal immigrants as undocumented workers, I would like to redirect your attention to an analogy that I saw the other day:
- If you are of legal age and driving a car with your driver's license in your pocket, then you are a legal driver.
- If you are of legal age and driving a car but you forgot your driver's license at home, then you are an undocumented driver.
- If you are not of legal age or you do not have a driver's license, then you are an illegal driver.
Make no mistake about this: if someone enters the United States by anything other than legal means, then they are not undocumented, they are here illegally, and they have no legal right to remain here. However, if someone if someone enters the United States using any of the methods prescribed in our nation's laws, then they are here legally, and from my perspective they are more than welcome to stay.
My son-in-law was born in Canada, and over the course of several years I watched as he navigated the steps to citizenship. I can tell you with complete honesty that many of the setbacks that he faced were ridiculous and unnecessary; for example: after years of work on his application for citizenship, someone simply failed to sign one document in my son-in-law's paperwork, (which is easy to do when you are dealing with hundreds of documents). When the mistake was discovered, common sense dictates that the single document would be returned for the appropriate signature. However, the United States government is apparently incapable of using common sense, and it rejected the entire packet, so my son-in-law was forced to restart the entire process. As I said earlier, the United States' path to citizenship is long and difficult, but my son-in-law persevered, and this past year I was privileged to attend his citizenship ceremony.
That being said, while the bureaucratic process should certainly be improved with regard to efficient process management, the need for a detailed and lawful path to citizenship is still required. For example, background checks are necessary to ensure that immigrants are not criminals escaping prosecution in their native countries, and basic health checks are required to ensure that other countries are not simply reducing the burdens on their civic responsibilities by relocating their infectious populace across our borders. Once immigrants have passed the basic checks set forth by our laws, I see no problem with making the path to citizenship a much-easier process than our nation currently possesses.
If I suddenly became emperor for a day, I would revamp our immigration system as follows:
- First, I would announce a temporary amnesty period, where everyone within our shores who is currently residing here illegally has five years to voluntarily report to the United States Immigration Naturalization Services (INS).
- Because of this temporary amnesty period, everyone who voluntarily reports to INS will be automatically granted work visas for the duration of the amnesty period, after which they will be required to renew their visas, (which should be an easy process).
- Those who do not report to INS during the temporary amnesty period will be subject to deportation, and possibly barred from applying for work visas or entry into the United States in the future.
- And lastly, the path from worker to citizen would be revamped so that productive immigrants will have a much-easier process to complete in order to remain in the United States indefinitely as full citizens.
Believe me, it's a good thing that I'm not emperor, but that being said - I am not alone in my desire to see our system of immigration preserved and legally enforced; here are like-minded thoughts from several former United States Presidents from throughout our nation's history:
- "Even as though we are a nation of immigrants, we're also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and they must be held accountable." Barack Obama
- "Nearly all Americans have ancestors who braved the oceans - liberty-loving risk takers in search of an ideal - the largest voluntary migrations in recorded history... Immigration is not just a link to America's past; it's also a bridge to America's future." George W. Bush
- "We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years and we must do more to stop it." Bill Clinton
- "Why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems; make it possible for [immigrants] to come here legally with a work permit, and then while they're working here and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back." Ronald Reagan
- "The [United States] flourished because it was fed from so many sources - because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples." Lyndon B. Johnson
- "Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life." John F. Kennedy
- "Remember, remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists." Franklin D. Roosevelt
- "We came to America, either ourselves or in the persons of our ancestors, to better the ideals of men, to make them see finer things than they had seen before, to get rid of the things that divide and to make sure of the things that unite." Woodrow Wilson
- "Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in society, conforming, as I doubt not you will do, to our established rules. That these rules shall be as equal as prudential considerations will admit, will certainly be the aim of our legislatures, general and particular." Thomas Jefferson
- "I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong." George Washington
In closing, I think the following quotation from Ronald Reagan sums up what it means to be an immigrant to the United States:
"I received a letter just before I left office from a man. I don't know why he chose to write it, but I'm glad he did. He wrote that you can go to live in France, but you can't become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can't become a German, an Italian. He went through Turkey, Greece, Japan and other countries. But he said anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American."