Readers of my columns and editorials in The Long Island Catholic over the years know I have a very positive view of immigration. I believe immigrants—even those who come here illegally—can make vital contributions to our economy and social fabric.
They contribute economically by becoming consumers as well as producers, thereby increasing demand and creating more jobs; and by filling some jobs, especially in the critical agricultural sector, that Americans are unwilling or unable to do.
And they contribute socially through a strong work ethic, love for their families and for our country, and often a deep religious faith.
Yet certain considerations have caused me to modify—although surely not abandon—my pro-immigrant sentiments.
The threat of international terrorism is of course magnified by lax border security. And, without embracing former President Trump’s sweeping disparagement of Mexican immigrants as “rapists and murderers,” there is no denying that significant criminal elements—including brutally violent gangs—continue to come into our country illegally. That they prey primarily on their own immigrant communities—particularly those who, because they are here illegally, will not turn to law enforcement for help—should lead those of us who sympathize with the plight of undocumented immigrants to embrace stricter border security to keep violent criminals out.
It is also arguable that in some fields—manufacturing, retail work, food service, to name a few—immigrants willing to work for lower wages do pose a threat to American workers. And yes, there are some who come not to find work but to avail themselves of public assistance, overburdening our generous, but far from limitless, social services programs.
Add to that the economic and health devastations wrought by COVID, and this hardly seems the time to open the floodgates to thousands more job seekers and potential pandemic spreaders.
So we need to balance compassion for the plight of illegal immigrants with respect for laws designed to protect a way of life that is the very reason so many want to emigrate to America.
I still feel strongly that we should strive to regularize undocumented immigrants already here, and already or potentially making positive contributions.
For that reason, while I opposed Congressional funding for Trump’s border wall—I felt he should be held to his promise that Mexico, not American taxpayers, would pay for it—I supported his proposal to regularize DACA recipients, even giving them a path to citizenship, in exchange for funding the wall.
To me, this was normal legislative horse trading. Trump would accede to the priority of Congressional Democrats, just treatment for immigrants brought here as children, and they would accede to his priority, funding the wall he saw as vital to border security.
Congressional Democrats, however, refused to compromise, accusing Trump of holding DACA recipients “hostage.” So we got neither security for DACA recipients nor enhanced border security.
Now President Biden is proposing legalization and a path to citizenship not just for DACA recipients, but for virtually all 11 million immigrants here illegally. Republican leaders are already voicing opposition, decrying it as blanket amnesty and noting the lack of provisions for border security.
And of course there is the elephant in the room, no pun intended. Eleven million new citizens means 11 million new voters. That would likely be a major political boost for Democrats—and a major political blow to Republicans—as immigrants, especially low-income immigrants, tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
Here again I think compromise is in order. I believe we should strive to regularize law-abiding, hard-working undocumented immigrants and their families, enabling them to move into the mainstream of American society and contribute to our economic, social, and cultural life. But I do not think those who enter our country illegally should be gifted with citizenship. If Democrats’ goal is to ease the plight of these immigrants and bring them out of the shadows, they should offer to drop the “path to citizenship” provision in exchange for Republican support of the bill; and Republicans should embrace that compromise, and drop their opposition to the bill, if the citizenship path is removed and effective border security measures specified.
This issue cries out for compromise and mutual respect—not the mutual demonizing that is far too prevalent.
Yes, there is a criminal element among those who illegally enter our country. But that hardly characterizes the vast majority who come here seeking a better life for themselves and their families, bringing with them the kind of work ethic, religious faith, love for family and love for America that we should welcome.
Yes, there has always been an element of bigotry among those concerned about immigration, going back to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. But that hardly characterizes the vast majority who have legitimate concerns about the impact of illegal immigration on public safety, national security, our economy, and public health.
We need to listen to and understand each other’s concerns; then work, in a spirit of compromise, to formulate solutions that, while requiring mutual sacrifice, can redound to the benefit of all.
Most of all, we need politicians and public officials, on both sides of the aisle, to support policies that advance the common good, not their partisan political interests.