As a nation, we need to fundamentally re-think our immigration policy in this post-Trump era. The question is not: What’s best for the poor people of central America and Mexico – to remain in their own countries or to move to the U.S.? They answer that question every day with their feet. Nor is the question what’s best for Democratic politicians who advocate increased immigration, decreased deportations, allowing more refugees, more asylees, and other would-be immigrants to remain in the U.S. while their cases work their way ever-so-slowly through the immigration court system. Likewise, the question is not what’s best for Republican politicians who oppose most of the Democrats’ positions and who prefer that would-be immigrants remain in Mexico while their cases are being processed.
The questions ought to be:
- What’s best for America?
- What’s best for Americans?
Those are two different questions and they might well yield two distinct answers with regards to immigration. But both questions ought to be answered publicly by both parties. What does immigration do FOR America? What does it do TO America? What does immigration do FOR Americans? What does it do TO Americans? Obviously there are several distinct categories of immigrants, who produce different effects on Americans of different classes, different educational backgrounds, and different employment statuses.
But we need to get past the platitudes: “We are a nation of immigrants.” “Immigrants built America.” “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” “America for Americans.” And partisan answers to the multiple issues of immigration are insufficient.
I’m one of those people who still believes in the promising vision of America as a city upon a hill – to use a New Testament phrase – or as a light unto the nations – to use a phrase from the Tanach. To be a shining example to the world, we need to do right – first of all – by U.S. citizens, by our fellow Americans, and – second of all – by those we allow to immigrate. Tent cities and homeless encampments should not be part of America’s urban landscape. That ain’t right! And certainly new immigrants shouldn’t find themselves added to our homeless population or to our welfare rolls. If we can’t or won’t do right by new immigrants, then shouldn’t we decrease our level of immigration or figure out a better way to integrate new immigrants? And if we can’t or won’t do right by American citizens born and raised here, should we allow in more immigrants who may well replace them in the workforce?
Whatever we do with our immigration policy, there will be winners and losers. It’s a lie to say we can devise a policy in which everyone wins – employers and employees, the unemployed, the skilled and the unskilled, the native-born, the immigrant, and the tens of millions of people from around the world who would immigrate to America if they could.