A COLUMN DIVIDED: How should the US deal with illegal immigration?
America has always been a land of opportunity. This has been true for the first settlers to those who come here today. Unlike much of the world, America has a history shaped by those who came here in pursuit of refuge or simply a better life. We are a nation of immigrants. Except for Native Americans who have endured unspeakable hardships, we can all trace our ancestry to somewhere other than the United States.
We should ask ourselves, what is it to be an American? Is it defined by your place of birth or the nationality of your parents? Citizenship was once defined by the color of a person’s skin, their gender and the amount of property they owned. No, being American is a greater concept shared by all who add their ideas, culture, hopes and dreams to the greatness that is our nation. It is certainly not an exclusive club denied to those who want to enjoy the same rights and responsibilities promoted by the U.S.
Any sensible immigration reform must include expanded opportunities for work programs, education, and amnesty for law-abiding immigrants who already reside in the United States. A path to citizenship is essential for anyone willing to follow the legal requirements. The DREAM Act specifically would benefit countless young people in our country, many of whom are forced to live in the lowest of circumstances. Making citizenship a greater possibility provides incentive to be a contributing member of society, whereas restriction and deportation only serve to alienate and break up families, not to mention costing the taxpayers. Many of these provisions are being advocated by President Obama and a bipartisan group of Senators and Congressman, a plan which also has received a record amount of public approval.
The changing demographics of our country leave us with two basic options: either embrace legal immigration and provide more options for citizenship and work programs or continue to spend billions of dollars closing our borders and victimizing our own citizens and legal immigrants in the process. In 2006 alone the budget allocated $6.7 billion for heightened border security, essentially building an enormous wall, adding more than five times the number of armed guards and requiring more legal restrictions. Despite these measures, the rate of illegal immigration actually increased. I am not advocating the total absence of regulation, but it is clear that immigration is inevitable, regardless of our policies.
Tony Blair once presented the truism that a simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in and how many want out. The American experience is as promising now as ever, and the fact that immigration stands as a major policy issue is a testament to that. It is time to embrace the tradition of immigration that has built the country into what it is today instead of criminalizing the desire for a better life. If we do so responsibly, the diversity and cohesion we create will carry our society through future generations.
– Mike McPhie is a senior from Toole, Utah, majoring in law and constitutional studies. During the spring semester, he interned in Washington, D.C. Send him comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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