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Tuesday, July 04, 2006


230 Years

posted by Tim Saler at Tuesday, July 04, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
Today is the 230th anniversary of our American independence from the shackles of British colonialism. Our history has been carefully documented, not just so that we may take pride in all that we have accomplished in our relative youth but also so that we, and others, may learn from the mistakes we have made.

I wish to look back twenty years ago, on a day when I myself turned a mere eight months old, when this country faced a similar domestic crisis as to the one we face now. In 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. This legislation would provide amnesty to those who entered the United States illegally. Over the course of the next few years, 2.7 million illegals acquired green cards for permanent residence in the United States. Ten years after the 1986 amnesty, the Immigration and Naturalization Service reported that the number of illegals in the United States was roughly the same as it had been in 1986. All the illegals who received amnesty had been replaced by new "immigrants."

Read on...

On July 4, 1986, the editorial board of the Washington Post accosted much of America for its "hypocrisy" in expressing concern over the massive influx of illegals, primarily from Mexico. Then, as now, the Post and those like it did not distinguish between the men and women who got on boats and came to the United States with a few dollars in hand to start a new life. In other words, they could not distinguish between legal immigration and illegally entering the United States. Here is the full text of the Post editorial, entitled "The New Americans":

THE COUNTRY celebrates its heritage today as a nation of immigrants. There is a sturdy pride in the achievements of those who crossed oceans and overcame barriers to reach America. This self-congratulation is deserved, for in fact no nation has been as welcoming as this one. Last year more than half a million new legal immigrants entered the United States, and in the past decade millions of refugees have been accepted and have been helped to start anew. Most individual Americans take pride, too, in the accomplishments of their own ancestors, almost all of whom came from poverty and persecution and built new lives.

But immigration did not end in 1910, or 1945, or even 1981. It continues, it changes, and it remains controversial. In the enthusiasm of this weekend it is necessary to remember that Americans have always greeted immigrants with mixed emotions. Each wave of newcomers has had doubts about the next. It is not surprising that, according to a recent New York Times poll, more people believe that immigrants cause problems for American society than believe they make contributions to it. Just as those from western Europe had doubts about later arrivals from southern and eastern Europe, so today there is some hesitation about new immigrants from Asia and Latin America.

Can this country continue to take more immigrants? Of course, and the new arrivals will continue to achieve, even to excel as did the newcomers of 80 years ago. It takes more than a little touch of hypocrisy for an American to celebrate the arrival of his own ancestors on the Fourth of July while deploring the current influx. Everyone is entitled to get misty-eyed this weekend thinking of what that first sight of the Statue of Liberty may have meant to his own forebears. But the day is given special meaning by offering respect to those who come today from refugee camps in East Asia, the turmoil of Central America and elsewhere. It is important, too, to forge a new resolve to cut through the continuing squabbles over immigration reform. Congress, upon its return, should pass a sensible bill.

Congress passed the "sensible bill" that the Post called for. The result has been such that today, twenty years later, it is estimated that there are between 12 million and 23 million illegals currently living in the United States. With twenty years to look back and all the advantages of hindsight we can say with certainty that the amnesty of 1986 was a mistake.

And yet today there are those who wish to repeat that mistake. They ignore even our recent history. They ignore the serious negative effects of the 1986 amnesty. But they also ignore much of our rich heritage and our greatest leaders who lectured one hundred years ago about the dangers we currently face today. Theodore Roosevelt said ninety-nine years ago:

In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile...We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.

Today, on the 230th anniversary of our independence from England, we stand ready to make a decision that will either reaffirm our independence as a nation and a country or will reduce us to a mere economic entity. President Ronald Reagan was correct when he said that a nation that cannot control its borders ceases to be a nation at all.

The contributions of legal immigrants have strengthened our country in indescribable ways, but we must continue to make clear the distinction between an America ready and willing to absorb new immigrants from any country in the world and that which former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo described as a "Mexican nation [that] extends beyond the territory enclosed by its borders." The former is the very essence of our existence. The latter is nothing short of the destruction of everything the United States of America was intended to be.

So today, as we celebrate this most American of holidays, let us take pride in our history as a nation of immigrants. But let us also take pride in our history as a nation of laws. We stand today a strong nation, stronger than those who signed their names to that Declaration 230 years ago could have ever dreamed we would be.

If we wish to remain a strong nation well into the future, then we must stay true to our heritage and stand with open arms to any and all who come from around the world and wish to share in the American dream. But we cannot sacrifice the laws of our country out of compassion for those who will trek across the dangerous desert to enter this country illegally. If we do, we will compromise the integrity of this unique American structure. Then, and only then, will the last, best hope for mankind cease to be.


here here!

my own family was going through the sponsorship process in the the mid-1980s. he know a few people who had come illegally who were normalized and joked it would have been easier to do it that way.


Tim -

It's not really clear to me where you're going with this.

First, it's not clear to me, from what you've written here or from anywhere else, that the Amnesty Bill of 1986 is responsible for the fact that we have so many illegals here now. What I find more likely is that, absent the Amnesty Bill, we'd have 2.7 million more illegals that we have now.

I'd also point out that many -- I would argue, by far, most -- folks that come here illegally would be happy to do so legally if that was available to them. They would be delighted to move here permanently, raise their kids here, own businesses and homes, put down roots and stay. Many do exactly that in the face of the risk of arrest, deportation, and the breakup of their families.

As an aside, the "Reconquista" stuff is, frankly, goofy.

Here is the problem we actually face:
1. America is rich.
2. Mexico is poor.
3. You can walk from Mexico to America.

The fact that folks come here looking for work has, more or less, the force of physical law. Like osmosis, poor working people go where they can find work to do. There is nothing we can do that we would (thankfully) actually be willing to do that will make it not worth the risk to illegal immigrants to try to come here. And, social justice utopians aside, there is not much we as Americans can do to make it economically or otherwise attractive enough to those folks to stay home.

If you actually want to reduce illegal immigration, you will need to reduce the incentive to hire them. That means prosecuting American individuals and companies that hire illegals sufficiently harshly that it isn't worth it to them to break the law.

Want to stem the flow? Pick 100 folks here in the US that hire illegals in large numbers. They won't be hard to find. Send each of them to jail for 10 years each, hard time, no parole. Take whatever property they've accumulated through the hiring or illegals away from them. Hit them with fines so large that they are bankrupted immediately. That will make the extra profit American employers realize by hiring illegals seem like not such a great deal. Your immigration problem will be gone in about five years.

In any event, the worst possible scenario, in my view, is the institutionalization of the second class status of illegals through a guest worker program. The result will be exactly what you are afraid of -- large numbers of unassimilated people, living as transient laborers in insular ghettos, with no possibility for the kind of permanent stake in this country that engenders loyalty.

We do, in fact, have a problem, but I don't really think the problem -- or the solution -- lies primarily with physical border enforcement.

Thanks -


after 1986 my family knew several people who overstayed and pointed to that amnesty with hope. it was a moral hazard.


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.