We are a nation of immigrants

“We are a nation of immigrants.”

What? Mom immigrated but Dad did not. Beyond what we could trace, we know his ancestors arrived from another land. But is that not the case for nearly everyone in every major civilization on Earth? Can even 10% of Greece trace their origins to the time of Socrates? If the quote is true, the United States is not unique.

In fact, this fundamentally empty rhetorical line challenges perceived xenophobic nationalism by inducing guilt. After sheepishly agreeing with it, the fair-minded listener readily surrenders reason to open acceptance of any alien newcomer who is, as were our familial predecessors, seeking a better life.

But reason must play a part. Easily four times the U.S. population abroad would rather live here than in their war-torn or poverty-stricken states. We cannot, have not, and will not ever let everyone in. The question is not if, but where to draw that line.

Washington has proposed a line somewhere between the millions obtaining visas legally and the billion(s?) across the ocean who would but logistically cannot. On the hope-filled side of that line are approximately 11 million illegal immigrants.

Leaders pose questions of fairness. Is it fair to split up families? Is it fair for a GSU student, here since age five, to be deported to an unfamiliar “homeland?” Of course not. But is it fair that rather than liberating jailed political dissidents and bring them to America to win Nobel Prizes, we instead spend money on imprisoning gangs of illegal immigrants responsible for drive-by murders? Is it fair that the student “with papers” pays thousands for public education while the undocumented student goes free? Arguing fairness by itself generates endless competing scenarios, bringing us no closer to solutions.

Back to reason. Our immigrant Panther will likely be a net contributor to society. His ties to his native land are songs and mama’s cooking. But he won’t defend that land in war, box for it in the Olympics, or go to work there to improve its industrial base. His allegiance to the United States is profound.

Arguably, our patriot represents more the exception than the rule. Having worked and lived with Hispanic immigrants extensively, I’ve seen that most who arrive as adults indefinitely continue cheering for their home team against the USA, maintain a foreign mindset, and refuse full assimilation into American culture, namely by learning English well.

Current immigration reform proposals tackle some of these issues. Achieving a “green card,” or permanent residence, would require learning English and basic civics, paying all back taxes, and getting in line behind legal applicants. Furthermore, those brought here as kids would line up ahead of those who chose to come. This occurs after securing the borders so 11 million new illegal immigrants do not cross.

Sounds reasonable. But what defines a secure border or the appropriate waiting period for our fellow student is unclear. The devil is in the details. Hopefully, our leaders apply both reason and fairness in their definitions.