The heart-breaking and, one would hope, unintentionally manufactured crisis of thousands of unaccompanied children crossing America’s southern border illegally is both symptomatic of the problems in government and suggestive of nongovernmental solutions.
A non-American myself, I’m acutely sensitive to issues involving immigration. It’s a complicated issue, but it boils down to this: As long as America is an exceptional, attractive country economically and culturally, there will be people, lots of people, around the world who want to come here. I did. There’s a reason Cuba, China and Iran don’t face these problems.
The problem is not one of immigration per se, but of process. Gone are the days of simply allowing a boat full of tired, huddled immigrants from the old country to hop off and start life afresh in the New World. Technology, terrorism, drugs, widespread gang violence, portability of the most destructive of weapons and a host of other factors have relegated that approach to history. America can and, I think, should welcome those huddled masses yearning to be free, but can’t afford to risk they’ll leave Ellis Island a pile of rubble in so doing.
The rule of law is a bedrock of the Anglo-western civilization that America adopted and made more perfect and which makes the nation so attractive to outsiders. As a society, America developed laws to deal with a gestating influx of immigrants. It’s through that prism immigration must be viewed.
Does the system cry out for reform? Yes. Like most government-run schemes, it has become a cumbersome, convoluted mess to the point where immigration law rivals tax law for sheer volume of unnecessary complexity. But there’s a baby in that bath water. Any reform must take a wider view and consider what immigration laws are ultimately there for: to provide a relatively orderly process so America can know who she’s welcoming and to ensure those she welcomes aren’t intent on her destruction. Spoken in terms of prioritization, this is why conservatives insist on securing the border before tackling the other details.
Taking a longer-range view, the goal of immigration, after security concerns have been ameliorated, needs to be ascertained. In my view, that goal unavoidably has to be to make each immigrant an American.
Assimilation into Anglo-western American culture might not muster the litmus test of political correctness, but has paradoxically been the ingredient that’s ensured the viability of the historical American melting pot.
Admittedly, assimilation into the American culture is easier for a Canadian than I imagine it is for someone from, say, Burma, Mali or the Honduras. But this doesn’t diminish its necessity.
Multiculturalism is fine, even welcome, as a didactic experience, or as a private expression of heritage, far less so as a matter of public policy. I celebrate my British and Irish heritage while somehow avoiding the self-loathing one would expect from such an internal conflict. I hum “The Maple Leaf Forever” with the original, unapologetically British, lyrics on Canada Day, and down a pint of Smithwick’s to some obscure old fenian tune on St. Patrick’s Day, just as some of my neighbors celebrate Cinco de Mayo and others celebrate one of a number of non-Gregorian New Year’s. But the flag outside my house is American and I have consciously immersed myself in American cultural, political and civic habits. I’ve even made a concerted effort to misspell “color” “honor” and “neighbor.”
The point is that assimilation into the adopted culture is not solely for the sake of that culture itself. Adoption of the culture is necessary to preserve that which attracted the immigrant in the first place. One doesn’t check into the Hilton only to toss the minibar and big screen TV out the window to make it more like the Hyway Motel.
Now, how to deal with the current crisis? We start by recognizing the administration’s culpability. No, 8-year-olds from Guatemala aren’t monitoring U.S. immigration laws and presidential executive orders. But their parents just might, as are those who choose to exploit parents’ natural desires to wish better for their children.
So here the children are, and they present a paradox — Americans are a naturally compassionate people, but individual states are in no financial position to adequately handle the deluge.
The solution most likely lies outside of government, as most solutions do. Conservatives frequently, and properly, cite Burke’s “little platoons” of society that get the real work done. Churches, non-profits, charities and individual philanthropists are far better positioned to direct resources toward the temporary care of these children until such time as they can be reunited with families or loved ones than is the government.
Meanwhile, the government should focus on its own role in the situation: secure the border and establish (through process, not executive dictate) and enforce the laws under which these children, and other immigrants, may or may not be in the country.