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One of the complaints in the Declaration of Independence addresses the king’s position on immigration. Let’s have a look, shall we?
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States, for that reason obstruction the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
Huh; not quite what I was expecting. These days the frustration with the government arises from their refusing to enforce restrictions on immigration, not refusing to encourage it. Jefferson’s reason here, too, is interesting. Prevent the population of these States? ‘Progress’ used to be an ideal worth striving for; and not progress in the sense of discovering ever-smaller injustices to decry. Taming the wilderness, subduing the continent, cultivating the wastes. All ideas that have gone out of style since the rise of environmentalism.
Environmentalism is fundamentally against the verb ‘population’, because people can’t help but change the environment. That’s even before you get to ideas like overpopulation and Malthusian constraints. We’re left to feel like people are something dirty, that we should feel ashamed for having the temerity to live and reproduce. The idea of populating these States as an end in and of itself is foreign to our modern modes of thought.
Tom Jefferson evidently believes in progress in that old-fashioned sense, and there’s plenty to recommend that idea. Myself, I find the more I think about immigration the squishier I’ve been getting. Never, it seems, for the arguments that actually get advanced, but for other reasons. Given the choice between the nineteenth century ideal of progress and the twentieth century ideal of environmentalism, my sympathies are with the former. But the question has never swung (in my mind) on that aspect. My objection to the de-facto open borders policy we have now runs to a cultural argument.
The Cultural Argument Against Open Borders
America is the best nation the world has ever seen. It’s been the most free, most noble, the country most likely to live up to its ideals. Lord knows all the works of human hands are dross, and there have been plenty of times that America has fallen short of the good. Even so the nation has been an uncommonly good thing for the world and mankind in general, and one would be very foolish to risk that.
America, as a nation, as a culture, has been really terrible these past sixty years at propagating the values which have made it great. There’s a whole half of the country who can’t understand the words I’m writing now any more than if I were speaking Swahili. Now add to those men a people schooled in the petty corruption of Latin America, a people who will be suckered by the bribes the leftists offer them. Bribes that purchase the power to tear America down. If that’s the case then we’d be taking a pretty big risk. At that risk who would gamble on the minor reward of the bettered economy we’re promised?
The problem with that line of thinking, I’ve become less convinced of some of the assumptions.
- It assumes the invincible power of the leftist propaganda machine.
- It assumes the right is currently strong enough to hold the cultural left at bay.
- It assumes that prospective immigrants don’t value freedom the same way we do, and most significantly
- It assumes that, left alone, our position will get better over time.
That last question is critical. If we closed the borders and let no-one in at all, who wins the long game? If freedom wins that’s one thing. If the left wins then the best we’d get out of that policy is the hope of slowing them down. If we’re shambling in the direction of a new leftist despotism already, then we don’t have much to lose.
And what do we stand to gain? That has to do with the third point. People still come to America, the shining city on a hill, because they believe in freedom. Not all, and probably not a majority. If we can’t maintain the culture among our own youth then what hope do we have that we can import it? But allowing in more immigrants offers us one crucial opportunity. The leftist propaganda machine isn’t invincible.
If we can’t save America from tyranny then we can at least try to preserve the hope of freedom. Inviting in more immigrants gives us the opportunity to show some more people what America meant. That’s not nothing. Some, almost certainly not a voting majority, will understand. Assuming we’re headed to that aforementioned despotism then the more people who mourn the death of America-that-was the better chance we’ll give the next Land of the Free. In that case, the small benefit would outweigh the costs of losing nothing we weren’t going to lose already.
The Question of Rule
But all that? That’s the counsel of despair. At the very least I’d be hesitant to pull a trigger based on that evaluation as the risks inherent in misjudging those assumptions are enormous. Let’s swing back to the Declaration, to the here-and-now. If Ol’ TJ were penning those words now I imagine they’d go something like this:
He has endeavored to replace the population of these States, for that reason obstruction the Laws for Defense of our Borders; refusing to pass others to discourage migrations hither, and winking at the wholesale flouting of the Law.
That’s not because I think Jefferson would swap his position on immigration. Immigration wasn’t what the Revolutionary war was fought over. The war was fought to settle the question of who rules who. Okay, there’s the sense where you decide which bloke gives the orders from now on (like any revolution), but more specifically the American revolution was about the question of who rules who in principle. Either the King and Parliament are sovereign over a people who have no vote in matters, or those people themselves will, lemme go back to Jefferson for a bit, “assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them”. That’s not just mouthing democratic platitudes while your junta settles in; the history of our nation proves that.
Jefferson wasn’t worried about the particulars of the immigration policy, he was worried about who gets to decide the immigration policy. And that returns us to the present day. On the one side we have a party which openly flouts the law by establishing sanctuary cities, and on the other side we have a party which is, in theory, all for controls; but somehow can never do anything past giving election promises. And then you’ve got Trump, who sees the people want illegal immigration controls and offers to get them a wall. At this point, I’d like a wall simply to remind the political class that it’s the people who ought to rule in this country.
You can’t demonstrate freedom to the world unless you actually have freedom. And if the people aren’t sovereign, if the political class decides policy without deigning to consult with the rest of us, then we aren’t a free people anymore. I find that in my own case as well as in revolutionary times immigration policy is subservient to the question of ‘who will rule?’
In the end, I’m worried less about whether illegals are taking up welfare benefits, or increasing the (non-immigration related) crime rate, forcing Americans out of the labor market, or even voting illegally. The main thing that worries me is a political class that’s decided it no longer needs input from the masses. That it can tax us without representing us.