Open Minds and Open Borders

I find it ironic that the political party that celebrates Ronald Reagan’s demand that the former Soviet Union “Tear down this wall” has morphed into a party ready and willing to build one on the southern border of the country. More powerful, of course, is the figurative and metaphorical wall too many Republicans feel compelled to impose on the country and immigrants. For a party that professes love for individual freedom and capitalism, they sure work hard to create big government intrusion on a businesses’ freedom to hire workers and the human right to work.

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No one disputes, of course, that America is a nation of immigrants and Jon Stewart’s Daily Show has already skewered the media arm of the Republican party. We are living in troubled times, though, when Nationalism trumps human rights. Reagan’s call to open the border was a recognition that political parties and national identity shouldn’t hinder economic and human freedom.

Most Americans would argue that businesses should have the right to hire the most qualified candidate regardless of skin color or gender. At our core, we recognize ability should triumph over intrusive policies handed down from on high. Hence, I think, our difficulty with affirmative action policies. Most thoughtful people recognize past government policies created inequities, and most of us realize we’ve made great progress. The question is how long that impact lasts and whether corrective action is still necessary. (And, admittedly, whether we think our current government is capable of developing effective corrective action or just digging a deeper hole.)The shame, like it is on so many issues today, is the lunatic fringe has occupied Main Street for so long we can’t seem to have meaningful conversations about immigration. But not any more. The Republicans, stinging from their defeat at the hands of a man many still believe is our immigrant (and terrorist) “president,” have had their come to Jesus moment on immigration. Or so they say.

Yesterday, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jon Kyl offered a new, softer face on immigration. I’ll first say that I kind of like Senator Hutchison. I’m convinced that if John McCain had chosen her as a running-mate instead of taking a right turn down crazy street and asking Sara Palin, he would have beaten Obama in 2008. (McCain’s choice was awful, but, more importantly, his choice confirmed for many of us that he had truly lost touch with reality. It also showed his binder was pretty thin.)  The proposed legislation, so far not endorsed by the Republican Party’s new immigration expert (he’s the expert of the week, I guess, because he has two names that end in “o”) Marco Rubio, has been dubbed the Achievement Act. Evidently, Hutchison and Kyl assume any proposed law listed first in the phone book will take precedence with voters. Forgetting that Kyl is the Senator from a state with the most restrictive immigration policy in the country, ignoring the fact that the Senators agree the plan will likely gain little traction considering the looming fiscal cliff, and turning a blind eye to the fact both Senators are retiring . . . well, as the unnamed Democratic aid notes–“it’s not exactly a profile in courage.”

Consider me underwhelmed. And add me to the list of people arguing that the Republicans just don’t get it. Immigration isn’t about citizenship or taxes or protecting American jobs. For a party that trumpets competition and free enterprise, they can’t seem to recognize that true free enterprise involves getting government out of the hiring business. If I’m a small business owner and Julio Sanchez, a person from Mexico, is a better potential employee than John Smith (whose family probably showed up from England 500 years ago and changed their name) then I should be able to hire him. If John Smith wants the job, he can either 1) do the job for less or 2) get better. Certainly, government has a role in monitoring job conditions within the workplace but government has no role in restricting who goes into that job.

Nationality does not equal employability anymore than skin color or gender does. If the Republicans want to truly return to their Conservative roots, Sens. Hutchison and Kyl, considering they are on their way out the door, should be advocating an open borders policy with a clear path toward citizenship that doesn’t hold those born outside politically drawn boundaries to higher standards than those whose parents (or grandparents) had sex on American soil. If one of our holdups is the path toward citizenship is complex and a winding road, perhaps, and I’m just spit-balling here, we should reform the bureaucratic mess that is the path to citizenship.

Perhaps I’m being unfair to our two Senators who have had years (and years and years) to address this issue when they had real power at the Congressional level. Their AA plan (doesn’t that just scream Saturday Night Live Skit–“Hello. I’m Carlita and I’m an immigrant.” Smoke filled room with stale donuts at the back.) is, really a response to the president’s DREAM Act, an attempt to stop holding young kids responsible for where their parents moved them. Perhaps their hearts are in the right place and they truly do want to follow the law so new arrivals don’t jump to the front of the line. But lord a’ mercy (as my Scottish ancestors might say), we are talking about people who have lived on American soil long enough to either serve in the military or graduate from college. If we don’t want them as citizens, who the heck do we want? Hell, there are some of my own relatives (American citizens all) who can’t meet the criteria (or pass a citizenship test). Can we set up an exchange? We’ll take the foreigner and send my cousin to Guatemala.

In a social system that should be much more highly evolved, we are still working with immigration policies built around distrust of foreigners and a nation building philosophy derived from the relatively ancient idea that “blood will tell.” The American Constitution and Bill of Rights isn’t unique because it defines us as Americans. They are unique because they protect our human rights and that desire should define us as Americans.

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Washington Monthly

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