Immigration bill defies core American values

By Liz Egan

Illegal immigration into this country has gotten out of hand, and smothering the problem with a bill hundreds of pages in length, as congressmen are currently attempting to do, is not going to bring us any closer to finding a solution. Appalling as it was that this immigration bill went up for a vote before many of the legislators had even had a chance to read it, it’s probably just as well. Washington has consistently demonstrated its inability to address immigration problems, so what’s another several hundred pages to throw onto the pile of failed ideas that have come before?

Amnesty—excuse me, the granting of temporary work visas—is not the solution, but then again, neither is building a giant fence. President Reagan’s attempt to grant amnesty in 1986 did not reduce the number of illegal aliens in this country (rather, that number has quadrupled), and 20 years later, 2006’s Secure Fence Act is pretty much as stupid as it sounds. Anyone who’s ever had an ant problem, small children, or flood damage knows that walls do little to keep unwanted visitors out.

The purported strength of the immigration bill passed by the Senate last week was its requisites for strengthened border protection and stringent measures to deport illegal aliens—both of which were also promised by Reagan’s failed 1986 immigration reform. But it’s not just our porous border that is the problem. The mixed messages immigrants receive when they get here must also be addressed in any immigration plan that intends to be successful. Bilingual materials are all too often used as a crutch instead of a stepping stone, crippling the intent of any aspirant immigrant to adapt to American life and enabling immigrants who come here for the free ride to coast right along.

Aside from the injustice that amnesty deals to those who have endured the arduous process of obtaining visas or citizenship legally, temporary work visas should also be opposed out of non-skilled immigrants’ best interests. When their visas expire and the renewals are maxed out, what are they supposed to do? What home is it, exactly, that we will be sending them back to? (Assuming, of course, that the government actually ever finds them again and miraculously has the resources necessary to deport them as promised.)

To switch gears for a second, think about the points liberals make against personal retirement accounts—an alternative to the current Social Security slush fund that would allow taxpayers to manage their own retirements. Liberals argue against personal retirement accounts because they give individuals too much responsibility. People are probably going to mess it up, they say, so just let the government take care of it. Yet the same liberal logic that doesn’t trust American citizens with their own retirement accounts also thinks illegal immigrants are going to have the foresight to plan well enough for their futures to be ready to return home after just a few years of work here.

If we don’t want “temporary” work visas to result in the permanent expansion of the welfare state, then trying to create a system that is in any way temporary has little hope for success. A temporary work visa just feeds immigrants for a day, as the saying goes, and then leaves them stranded and dependent. What we need to do is teach them to fish, so that they may be fed for life—but with the caveats that they arrive at the fishing hole by legal means and that they learn to fish the American way.

It’s one thing for immigrants to preserve their cultural customs and languages in addition to learning English, upholding American values, and otherwise assimilating into American life. Indeed, this is enriching, both for America and for the immigrants who choose to call America home. It’s another thing, however, for immigrants to preserve their customs and languages instead of adapting to American life, thereby abstaining from American customs and refusing to call America home.

The media have been downplaying newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s tough stance on immigration in France. This is to be expected, since reporting Sarkozy’s views would cause Americans to notice that we are not the only ones who face immigration problems and that there are more solutions out there than the lackluster fence Washington is trying to build. For example, Sarkozy is insistent that immigrants to France must learn French and demonstrate respect for French customs.

Talking about immigration policy is tricky, because it exposes the speaker to the precarious terrain of racist allegations. Unfortunately, it’s become the knee-jerk reaction of the left to construe the defense of an American identity and of American principles as synonymous with a racist whitewashing of non–WASP cultures. There is no American identity, they say, because we are all immigrants to this country. Yet anyone who would deny that there is such a thing as an American identity should pay more attention to the rhetoric of the terrorists who are trying to destroy it, for they are certainly under the impression that America has a distinct identity of its own.

Yes, ours is a nation founded by immigrants. But equally true is that those founding immigrants had something very crucial in common: the desire to come together in the name of freedom. Americans have a lot in common. We work hard, dream big, and give with our hearts. And we speak English. If immigration reform is going to be successful in this country, our message to potential immigrants should be similar to Sarkozy’s: You can come to America, but only if you want to be an American.