If you had asked me about immigration 30 years ago, I would have shrugged and said it was a good thing for the country. My family, like most everyone I knew, came over from the old country. It was not until I reached adulthood, living in New England, that I became aware of people who traced their roots to the colonial times. Even so, I was trained in the American mythology about a nation of immigrants, so I just assumed immigration was mostly a good thing, when I bothered to think about it, which was not often.
It was only after I came to know recent migrants that I started changing my mind about the topic. The people, who had recently gone through the system, had very different ideas about it than Americans born here. More important, they had no illusions about the state of the population in the old country. Talk to recent migrants and they will be happy to tell you that most of the people they left behind should stay over there. The recent migrants left the old country for a reason.
This came to mind the other day when I sat listening to a Turk and an Indian discuss immigration. Both were Trump people exclusively on the immigration issue. Both had come to America the old fashioned way – legally. The Turk was a Coptic Christian. He left for America thirty years ago as a young man, figuring there was no future for Christians in Turkey. The Indian had come here on a student visa, got a job, fell in love with America and decided to stay. In both cases, it took ten years to gain citizenship.
One of the things you learn from immigrants, when it comes to the immigration issue, is they place a high value on citizenship. That’s because they spent a lot to get it. Acquiring citizenship was a transaction for them, not an accident of birth. The Turk in this story left his home, and all that he knew, because he correctly saw where things were heading in Turkey. He was a guy that sold all his stuff, bought as many black chips as he could afford, and pushed them into the middle of the table.
The other thing immigrants know is that America is a lonely place. Europe, for example, is full of old cities and villages where people grow up in the shadow of ancestors. There’s no fresh start in a place like that. Every man is just a dot on the timeline started by people long ago. In other parts of the world, there’s the shadow of history and the entanglements of tribe and clan. In a place like India, the obligations to family and custom are more limiting than anything government can conjure.
In America, immigrants are free to start their own timeline. The past is no longer a set of boundaries on them. Just as important, they are free of the family and tribal restrictions. The Turk in this story married a Greek woman, who was also an immigrant. The Indian went into a career that does not exist in India and even if it did, his family would not have approved. You can do those things where it is just you, striking out on your own. That’s the attraction of America. It’s a blank canvass for immigrants.
None of this means we should fling open our borders and let the world move to America. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Borders and barriers are a filtering mechanism that helps tamp down the number of bad migrants a country gets. If the Germans had been more scrupulous, for example, they would not have murderous Muslims rampaging through their streets right now. Europe is headed for a very dark time solely due to their rulers forgot that good borders make for good citizens.
America should be learning from this. We have no shortage of workers and we no longer have vast tracks of unexploited land. We could have zero immigration and no jobs would go unfilled. There’s also the cultural aspect. We have had high levels of immigration for half a century, but low levels of assimilation. Even if there is an economic argument for more migrants, and there isn’t, it is far outweighed by the cultural arguments. It will take many generations to absorb the current migrants.
Even so, low levels of legal immigration are probably a good thing. The people willing to go through all the steps it takes to migrate legally are going to be people who scrupulously observe the law. They are not coming here just to screw it all up for everyone including themselves. Recent legal immigrants tend to be hyper-patriotic for that reason. They take nothing for granted because they had to earn their citizenship. Their presence is a healthy reminder that citizenship has value.
That’s ultimately the truth about the open borders crowd. They place no value on citizenship. That’s because they put no value on people. To the open borders enthusiasts, humans are just undifferentiated raw material, inputs they can manipulate. Whether the material comes from home or abroad is irrelevant because everything normal people associate with being human is of no concern to the managerial types. They see people the way normal people look at furniture.