The Supreme Court momentarily impeded President Obama’s attempt to “fundamentally transform America” last week with its 4-4 vote on his executive amnesty action plan. When the court is deadlocked, previous decisions by lower courts are allowed to stand. In this case, Obama lost because the lower court found that his plan exceeded his executive authority, which is actually what Obama himself said before he decided to do it.
The evenly divided court apparently couldn’t make up its mind as to whether the president is permitted to act like a dictator and suspend laws he doesn’t like. That’s a tough question, you see, with half of our best legal minds leaning toward dictatorship. Scary.
After the ruling, President Obama held a press conference to assure the public that “comprehensive immigration reform” is still inevitable, if only delayed. He’s probably right about that. Like water on a rock, the Left just keeps wearing us down.
He began the press conference with a lot of feel-good pap about the glories of immigration—while lumping legal migrants together with illegal aliens, as the Left always does. “…[O]ne of the reasons why America is such a diverse and inclusive nation is because we’re a nation of immigrants,” said the president. “Our Founders conceived of this country as a refuge for the world. And for more than two centuries, welcoming wave after wave of immigrants has kept us youthful and dynamic and entrepreneurial.”
That’s the fifth grade version of history that I was taught in school too. My well-meaning teacher taught us that immigration is part of our national ethos. We learned about Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and looked at a lot of pictures of young women wearing babushkas, staring out from the decks of ocean liners. It was all nice and corny.
Obama has seized on that familiar history lesson for his own advantage, clearly implying that unfettered immigration is all-American—which renders opposition to it un-American. Make no mistake about it, the president’s appeal to the Founders (whom he hates, by the way) and our supposed tradition of immigration is an attack on his opponents’ patriotism.
Usually when people talk about the Founders’ intentions they are referring to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or its offspring, the Bill of Rights. Nothing in any of those documents even hints that the Founders “conceived of this country as a refuge for the world.” Thomas Jefferson’s philosophical brief to King George doesn’t mention it. The Bill of Rights enshrines in law many freedoms, most of which are under siege in Obama’s America, but it does not include a “right” to immigrate. The Constitution even empowers Congress (not the Executive!) to establish a “uniform Rule of Naturalization.” (Article I, Section 8) Congress did their duty and established an immigration code, which happens to be very liberal, but the president has nonetheless sought to nullify it via executive order because some people still can’t come in the right way.
By empowering Congress to regulate immigration, the Constitution necessarily implies that we have the prerogative to set limits. We Americans are the gatekeepers because American immigration policy is supposed to benefit us. It doesn’t matter a lick if immigrants come here “looking for a better life.” If their addition to our society doesn’t make our lives better then we have no obligation to take them. This idea is exactly the opposite of the Obama philosophy on immigration which says that anyone who can get here has a right to come in—except apparently devout Christians from Germany who want to homeschool their children. Under Obama’s plan, newcomers don’t even have to go through a screening process to make sure that they don’t carry contagious diseases or terrorist sympathies. All they have to do is run across the border and Obama will be waiting there for them with a welfare check in one hand and a voter registration card in the other. If you oppose him, your patriotism is suspect.
Obama compounded his historical error with his reference to “wave after wave” of immigrants to our shores “for more than two centuries.” The truth is more complicated. Over the course of our history, Congress has used its rightful authority to adjust immigration levels as it saw fit. Sometimes immigration was a mighty river and sometimes a trickle. It has not been, as Obama implied, two hundred years of sustained mass migration—and it certainly hasn’t been two hundred years of lawless open borders, which is his actual goal.
There have really been two great “waves” of immigration to this country, and we’re living in one of them. The most recent began in 1965 with Ted Kennedy’s Immigration and Nationality Act. The United States opened its doors very wide indeed, accepting about 59 million immigrants over the course of fifty years. That’s more people than live in California, our most populous state, by the way, and it doesn’t include illegal aliens. Yet despite this very liberal policy, some people still can’t be bothered to come in the right way. Obama considers these people to be victims, probably because he views them and their children as potential voters. They are not victims, you are–the law-abiding, tax-paying citizen.
The other “wave” occurred between the years 1880 and 1921. This is the much romanticized “Ellis Island” era of immigration. Though not without its problems, America managed this period of rapid change reasonably well because it subscribed to the melting pot model. These days, just saying that America is a melting pot is a “microaggression” on some college campuses.
An argument could be made that America needed the Ellis Island wave of immigrants because we were in the midst of westward expansion and rapid industrialization. In 1901, the United States became the world’s largest manufacturer, which was both the cause and effect of mass migration. There was certainly work in those days for anyone who wanted it—bridges and tunnels to be built, coal and ore to be extracted from the earth, and goods of every imaginable variety to be manufactured. New railroads were being laid across the continent, often by Irish and Chinese immigrants.
But that was then and this is now. America is becoming one big rust belt and yet we’re bringing in more immigrants than we did when we were a budding industrial power. It’s madness.
An alternative argument could also be made that we brought in those immigrants not because we needed them but because employers wanted them. The elite’s desires are not the same as the country’s needs, though the two are easily confused when the elite get to tell the story.
Employers have traditionally welcomed immigrants because immigration makes the workers fight each other for coveted jobs. In times of high immigration, wages tend to remain stagnant or even decline. Whenever the workers start getting uppity, employers seek labor in ever more exotic locales—first Ireland and Germany, then China and Italy, now Laos and Guatemala. The best way to make workers toil longer for less is to keep them in constant fear for their livelihood.
This idea that we are a nation of immigrants was advanced in no small part by exactly those employers. Call it corporate propaganda, if you will. I would compare it the diamond industry’s not-so-subtle suggestion to young men that spending two months salary on a diamond ring before proposing to a lady is some kind of obligatory right of passage. Though this practice may seem like an age old tradition it was actually conceived of in a DeBeers boardroom. It’s the same with the American immigration ethos. Though we have been led to believe that America has always been open to absolutely anyone who wants to come here for a better life, that just isn’t the case. Our immigration policy has sometimes been liberal and sometimes conservative, but it has never been boundless. Our current president and his party don’t want any limits, nor do they want an orderly screening system. They want a free-for-all—and they’ll probably get it.
Immigration is certainly part of our history, though not because it had to be that way. The number of immigrants admitted was determined by a tug-of-war between employers and the working public. When the employers had their way, the flood gates were thrown open, whether we needed them or not. When workers had their way, the flood gates were closed.
Congress’s constitutional authority to regulate immigration was narrowly upheld but the fight is not over. The Left hasn’t given up and neither should we.