The nation that forgot its history

This past summer, a bipartisan immigration policy was defeated in Congress. The policy’s intention was to offer a quick legal status to millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.

Supported by no less than the U.S. President, the policy met its Waterloo at the hands of nativists who think the U.S. has no business playing host to people knocking (or stealing) at its door.

They seem to forget the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Ever since the English colonials descended on Jamestown in the early 17th century, the U.S. has always welcomed those who seek liberty, succor and happiness.

It is estimated there are close to 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. These people, invariably referred to as “illegal aliens,” are not a bunch of fluffy beings with stuff sticking out of their heads like aliens are imagined to be.

They are human beings. They seek, like everyone else, a better life for themselves and their families. They come to the U.S. by whatever means because they believe in the promise of this country.

Therefore, I believe it is important for the immigration debate to shift from the emotional (like cooping up a presumed illegal immigrant in a cage) to the pragmatic and strategic.

The U.S. is not called “nation of nations,” “mosaic,” “salad bowl” or “melting pot” for nothing. The U.S. is these, and in many more ways expresses diversity, and dare I say multiculturalism; because it is basically a nation built and sustained by people from all over the world.

Secondly, the Declaration of Independence, among other things, avers human beings are born equal and endowed by the creator with equal and unalienable rights – among these rights is the pursuit of happiness.

Pursuit of happiness through economic opportunity and liberty is what pulls a lot of people to the U.S. As long as the United States is the world’s richest economy, as long as the country maintains its exceptionalism in diverse ways that enamor billions around the globe, it will continue to attract immigrants – legal or illegal.

Historically too, the U.S. has always welcomed immigrants. The earliest settlers, depending on where they landed may or may not have been well received by the Indian natives of the land.

Eventually, however, the “new world” stood as a beacon of hope to people from around the world who were beat, hungry and afflicted with a host of squalid living conditions.

Reception and mainstreaming of newcomers into the new way of life is what has built this nation into what it is.

Lastly, due to globalization, it is wishful thinking to believe that fortresses (no matter how high) or targeted persecution of “illegals” will deter people from trying to come to the U.S.

This may happen if the U.S. shuns globalization and loses its eminence as the world’s richest and most exceptional country.

Unfortunately, building walls to keep off people and hunting down people involved in productive economic activities just because they are illegal immigrants is one of the ways in which “U.S. exceptionalism” is being eroded.

Due to phenomenal advances in technology, the world is increasingly becoming a “global village.” People can now move around the world easily, conveniently and fast.

Development in information technology has also made communication fast and efficient. These, and others, are the effects of globalization, born of liberal economic policies that the U.S. readily supports.

At another level, the assumption that immigrants are a drain on resources and a squeeze to American citizens is flawed. If this were so, the vibrancy that remains in the United States would long be gone.

Those who come here are generally interested in having a shot at a better quality of life. They work hard to buy into the American way of life.

Granted, immigrants may be unable to take care of their children’s education and healthcare needs the moment they set foot in the U.S.

However, their children go to school and eventually contribute to the revenue base. The fright about immigration is one of misappropriation: Generalized ill-feelings and latent hate towards immigrants is clearly a frustration with economic recession in the U.S.

It then becomes convenient to vent out on immigrants, it is easy. No, it is not, it is escapist and myopic.

It will be in the interest of the U.S. to design policies that provide new immigrants and their children a pathway to achieving the magical thing that is the American way.

Such a framework will create a system that does not treat people as supplicants or sub-human just because they are immigrants, legal or illegal (illegal should not arise in the first place).

That is what the U.S. has always been about; welcoming people, supporting them to integrate into the system and letting them continue the beautiful tradition of building this great “nation of nations.”