An important public policy issue is our nation’s immigration laws. It is well known that we have a ‘leaky’ southern border with Mexico. We believe that there are about 11 million undocumented and illegal immigrants living in the United States, most of them citizens of Mexico and other states in Central America. A variety of factors have caused them to cross into the US including economic hardship; family ties; and drug wars. They bring the hopes and aspirations for a better life, but they also may come with threats to our national security such as terrorism and disease.
Many conservatives fear that President Obama will issue some sort of executive order after this fall’s general election that will offer some sort of ‘path to citizenship’ or amnesty to all or most of the undocumented immigrants. Can he do this without the authority of Congressional law? No doubt, constitutional scholars will argue over this, taking their case to the judiciary.
There are a lot of pro and con arguments to this issue. Democrats want to see amnesty adopted in some fashion like what happened in 1986 (there were about three million illegals granted citizenship then) because it is an opportunity to recruit many new voters. Some Republicans would like to see this because it is a source of cheap labor, particularly for agriculture workers. As a rule, Republicans want to see our 2,200 mile southern border secure to prevent this from recurring (this was an unkempt promise from the 1986 law). Concerns over border security range from issues such as crime; illegal drugs; language barrier; disease; and educational standards.
In all of this debate, one thing that hasn’t been addressed from my viewpoint is assimilation. You see, it is very important when foreign born immigrants come to this country to join our ranks that they become assimilated into the American experience. This includes things like learning our native language as well as our history and democratic institutions. In this way, they have an opportunity to succeed in their newly adopted homeland.
During the influx of many European immigrants a century ago, they settled into ethnic neighborhoods, but within a generation, they had become Americans, carving out a way to adapt to their new homeland and beginning a new version of the American dream. While my Mother’s family came to America as early as four centuries ago, my Father’s family emigrated from Scandinavia in the late 19th Century. His Mother was born in a sod hut in the Sandhill region of Nebraska to immigrant parents. By 1932, she was teaching the children of nearby McAlpin how to read and write proper English. This is an example of assimilation done correctly.
On the other hand, during the recent World Cup soccer matches in Brazil, when hundreds of people gather in a Los Angeles commercial district waving the Mexican flag to celebrate a victory by their “home” team, this is an example of how not to assimilate an ethnic group.
When the immigrants passed through Ellis Island in the early years of the 20th Century, one of the things that authorities were looking for was infectious diseases. Tuberculosis was a great concern. Those who were deemed a risk were either sent back or quarantined until they were clear from symptoms.
It seems to me that we have a lot today to learn from this example with concerns over Ebola and the interovirus. The reason that two Dallas nurses (and possibly others) are infected with Ebola was that the late Thomas Eric Duncan was allowed to enter the United States from West Africa carrying the virus.
In Biblical times, authorities understood the importance of quarantine for things like Leprosy when it came to minimizing the risk from infectious diseases. We seem to have lost sight of how to deal with these problems to prevent an outbreak. The neighbors (Nigeria for one) of the three West African nations, where the Ebola outbreak is centered, have been very effective at preventing the disease to spread to their country and protect their citizens. Why aren’t we?
And let’s not forget the importance of screening and isolating those who may have been exposed to Ebola from public conveyance. One passenger being watched for incubation from the Dallas hospital that treated Mr. Duncan shut down an entire cruise ship with thousands of passengers. The Mexican government simply refused to risk their citizens and consequently, refused entry of the cruise ship. Imagine the cost to Carnival! The same thing applies to the aircraft that flew the second Dallas nurse to and from Cleveland. If you were a passenger on that ship or aircraft, how would you feel about your safety?
My solution isn’t too complicated. Learn from the failures of the 1986 “comprehensive” immigration bill. Take immigration policy in small but manageable steps to minimize the effect of unintended consequences. Protect the citizens of our nation from diseases that originate in other lands. And finally, assimilate newcomers into the American culture so they may contribute to the great nation we are.