Thinking about Immigration

Immigration has been a contentious topic in the USA for some time now. If one pays any attention to our political discourse, it’s hard to miss. Here are some of my thoughts and questions on the subject.

  1. Why do we allow immigration in the first place? It’s conceivable that a country could decide that it is already perfectly awesome in every way. Its culture is stable, its ways of operating are good for all citizens. In such a state surely the introduction of new people would bring imbalance. Even if we have zero immigration from other countries, we’re still bringing in new people – through birth. Those little people are destabilizers to our current culture and ways of doing things. If you don’t believe that, try having some children (even one would do). As they – and we – age, we look for new opportunities. If we are happy with a static society where change is extremely minimal, having zero immigration (and few children) might be a good idea. But what if  young people want jobs? Do they have to wait until older people retire? What if someone wants a promotion? Or a raise? Thinking from an economic perspective alone (and no, there’s no reason to think in terms of economics alone), new people can bring dynamism to a country. Their demand for goods and services put pressure on suppliers to expand their efforts and offerings.
  2. Or let’s consider the cultural question. Adding new people through birth would seem to be the way to go if we think our culture is already awesome. After all, we train these young ones into our culture, its values and ways of doing things, as they grow up in our homes. They assimilate by growing up with us. Immigrants from outside, most of them already enculturated to a particular culture’s values and ways of doing things, are foreign entities in our national body. So we should keep them out! Or should we? Even if our current culture is awesome in every way, that is a belief about today’s instantiation of our culture. What about our transition to the future? Maybe we need some input into our culture to keep it fresh and adaptive to an ever changing world.
  3. But assimilation is a problem. Well, at least we think it is. Some of our people think that assimilation itself is an evil. Every individual should be completely free to be that particular individual, down to the level of even choosing their own gender. What we call assimilation is an evil imposition on people, a true act of oppression. Or maybe the evil of assimilation looks at other levels of identity. Perhaps we should aim for a true “salad bowl” rather than the old oppressive “melting pot,” where everyone keeps their own cultural identities, where all cultural values and ways of doing things are treated as equally good and worthy of adding to our national culture. The view of immigration commonly called “conservative” is at least partially based on a rejection of the rejection of assimilation. Conservatives like our country the way it is – at least generally. We don’t want North Korean Juche or Muslim Sharia imposed on us. The claim that those immigrant values would just exist alongside our existing cultural values doesn’t look so good when considering their totalizing claims. Conservatives believe that unlimited immigration with only the most tepid assimilation of immigrants will destroy their country.
  4. I believe assimilation of immigrants is a good thing; but it’s not a simple or unmitigated good. In the first place, it’s not simple, because our current culture is not monolithic. We have a profound cultural chasm now expressed between liberals and conservatives. To which American subculture do we want new people to be assimilated? Conservatives would be more open to immigration – I think – if there were a greater possibility that immigrants would be enculturated in their direction. On the one hand, though, liberals control many of the institutions of enculturation: education, entertainment, government bureaucracy, news media. On the other, conservatives have been profoundly unwise (I speak more gently than I’m normally inclined to do), as expressed in our fearless leader’s recent imprecations toward certain countries, in not promoting immigration from cultures where the move to their own way of seeing and operating in the world is not a long journey.
  5. We can also question whether our country is now (or ever was) as totally awesome as we’d like to believe. Thinking in terms of political ideologies, each side tends to think, “If only we were in charge and could put the evil/stupid liberals/conservatives in their place! Once we consolidate control and can make everyone live according to our wisdom, THEN we’ll be totally awesome!” I realize this is the point in the conversation where it’s normal for someone to chime in, “We need each other. We need the wisdom of both sides. We need to split the difference, then we’ll be totally awesome!” I’m too skeptical to make that move. More immigrants – especially if we’re open to learning from them – might help us to see third, fourth, fifth (you get the idea) ways of looking at things that take us beyond our current deep bifurcation.
  6. Some people come to America by choice. They see us as the land of opportunity, not just in general but particularly for them and their families. Others come to America by the choice of some other person – parents bringing their children, and in the past, slaves brought by those who considered them objects, tools and not humans. And now, some number of years later, whether just a few as with children recently brought here, or centuries as with the descendants of slaves, here we are, living in America, trying to get by and get ahead the best we can. Some of the people who have come in the past century came in ways that accord with the law; others came by other means. It seems to me that if people are here, working to better themselves and their families – and their communities, it’s worth our while to keep them.
  7. But not everyone appears to be out to better themselves, their families, and their communities. Some are living wretched lives, totally dependent on others, with no current desire for a different life. Some of these are in that position by their own choices; others are in that position because it’s been inflicted on them and they can’t see any other way as a live option. The thing is, I’ve seen nothing to convince that this has anything to do with one’s immigration status. Sure, some immigrants are bad for our country. I’d look for ways to discourage them from coming. But even more of our native born seem to be bad for our country. Some of these might be totally awesome in their own minds, and for themselves, but an utter disaster for others around them.
  8. We desperately need an improved immigration system and path to citizenship. Many people do the hard work of trying to work within the laws. It’s neither easy nor quick.
  9. We are limited. We, like every other country on earth, have a limited carrying capacity. We can think of this in cultural terms. Assuming assimilation is good and necessary, and I do, to at least some degree, we can only assimilate so many people so quickly. We don’t have a three thousand year old culture like China that is so deep and pervasive that it can assimilate most anything and anyone. Our own culture is new, changing, and contentious. We don’t want to be Mexico, Haiti, Norway, France, or India. We want to be ourselves (even as these and so many other cultures have made contributions to make us what we are). We’re also limited in terms of resources. As a Christian, I can say it’d be a good thing if we were to take in the poorest billion people on the planet and enrich their lives. But I don’t think it can be done.
  10. We’re interconnected. While people talk about building a wall on our southern border, why not a wall on our northern border? In the first place, it’s way too long. The main thing, however, is that their aren’t hordes of people pushing into our country from the north. We see huge numbers coming from the south and think, that’s where we need a wall! But we should think about why hordes aren’t coming from the north. How are the countries to our north different from the ones to our south? At the very least, there is a huge economic difference. Our northern neighbor is far ahead of our southern neighbors economically. It would seem that it would be to our advantage for our southern neighbors to advance economically. Can we do anything to help them (which would in turn help us, if we assume decreased immigration from the south is a good thing)? I think we can.

Well, those are some of my thoughts on immigration. I don’t see them matching up with what either of our current parties are proposing. Since I’m politically homeless, that’s ok with me.

As a Christian, I think it’s great that God is bringing people from all over the world here. Many are coming from what used to be called “unreached countries,” countries where it was nearly impossible to send missionaries. Well, we could send them, we just couldn’t keep them alive, out of prison, or expect them to make it home. For that reason, I personally count immigrants to be a blessing.


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