The appropriate response to the impending invasion of 5,000 or more Hondurans and other Central American would-be migrants in a caravan headed to our southern border is remarkably obvious and justified. Don’t let them in. This is first and foremost a matter of national sovereignty. No one has a legal right to enter our country without our permission or acquiescence. That includes foreign armies, drug cartels, tourists, business people, diplomats and asylum seekers. Every country has the right and duty to control its borders.
Much of the confusion about our nation’s historic, official immigration policies can be traced to the famous inscription on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, a verse taken from a poem, “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus. It declares to all the world:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
This may be a heart-warming sentiment, but Lazarus was not speaking for the US government. She was a New York City socialite who advocated for Russian Jews seeking immigration to the US and also for establishment of a Jewish homeland in Israel (what later became known as “Zionism”). Politically, she was a progressive anti-poverty activist who demanded heavy taxation on the rich and on landowners. She’d no doubt be a Bernie Sanders supporter today.
But the Statue of Liberty wasn’t built as a beacon to immigrants. It was a gift from France after the first American centennial as a tribute to the Declaration of Independence, democracy, the end of slavery, tyranny in general and the friendship between our two nations. At its dedication ceremony in 1886, the only immigrants cited were the “illustrious descendants of the French nobility” who fought the British alongside Americans in our Revolutionary War. According to the The New York Times, Lazarus’s words were added to the statue many years later, in 1903, commissioned by writers and artists as part of a fund-raising campaign to pay for the statue’s pedestal.
As a matter of public policy, the US has historically imposed limits and restrictions on immigration. In New York’s port at Ellis Island, from its opening in 1892, hopeful immigrants could be rejected on the basis of sickness, disease, mental illness, political extremism or the likeliness of their “becoming a public charge” requiring taxpayer support. Once upon a time, especially as America was expanding its western frontier, building railroads and public works, we had a desperate need for physical laborers. Hence, we welcomed immigrants who gladly came in search of a better standard of living than their native lands offered. That was then this is now. Today, protecting American jobs is a far greater priority for many.
Our welfare state, in its current form, with a multitude of income-transfer programs and subsidies at the federal, state and local levels was non-existent during the immigration waves of years past when Emma Lazarus invited the world’s poor to flock to America. We already have more than enough of our own homeless, poor, needy and those “tost” by tempestuous hurricanes. Our systemic budget deficits and the burgeoning national debt they drive is a looming fiscal catastrophe. Current government spending greatly exceeds our tax capacity and is on trajectory to get far worse. The elephant in the fiscal room is a cornucopia of so-called “mandatory entitlement” programs ─ especially Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid ─ that account for more than two-thirds of all federal spending.
A popular protest sign among open borders demonstrators emphatically cries out: “No ban, no wall, America was built for all.” This is nonsense. Economist Milton Friedman wisely noted that open borders and a welfare state are fiscally incompatible. Support for open borders by Democrats and ideological progressives has two primary motivations. 1) That the poor among them will overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, ensuring that party’s political domination in perpetuity, and 2) Boundless compassion and “social justice” for those in need.
That latter motivation at least sounds more noble. But it’s the fatal flaw of ideological leftists when it comes to governing. They have no limiting principle. It’s why they refuse to constrain their spending addiction on ever-expanding government programs and why they imagine there’s no limit on soaking the rich and no consequences on overtaxing and over-regulating businesses.
But why stop at admitting 5,000 illegal Central American migrants to the US? Why not 50,000 or 5 million? Why not the entire 30 million-strong population of Venezuela, a nation whose economy has been recently destroyed by socialist dictators? Why not open our borders and our welfare state to one and all of the world’s 7 billion people who yearn to improve their condition? After all, isn’t that our obligation as humanitarians? Actually, no.
Opposition by conservatives to unlimited waves of the world’s most needy isn’t founded in “racism” or “xenophobia,” as condescending progressives falsely claim. It’s simply part of a rational and realistic immigration policy to preserve our society’s economic, social and cultural wellbeing.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.
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