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Pro-Immigrant Is Pro-American

by Roger Algase

This article will explore the validity of two basic assumptions in Harry DeMell's article ("Is CIR backwards?"(09/03/ID). It will not discuss the actual merits of his suggestion that temporary worker programs, including one for guest workers, are better policy than "amnesty", because his article does not itself go into any detail in this regard. I will therefore limit myself to two brief comments on the merits. One is that nothing in this article should be taken to imply any disagreement with Mr. DeMell's conclusion that admitting more skilled workers would be wise policy. I do not disagree.

My second brief comment on the merits is that Mr. DeMell's assumption that admitting more temporary skilled workers has a better chance of obtaining enough political support to pass in Congress than does CIR (which, and here I also agree with Mr. DeMell, has none at all), is open to serious question. Senators Charles Grassley (R Iowa) and Charles Schumer (D New York) would no doubt have a very different view.

To turn to my main point, Mr. DeMell's article makes two statements which have important implications for immigration policy, but which are clearly ideological in nature rather than being statements of fact. The first highly ideological statement is that we must ask "who we want to include in the American experience". The fact is that throughout American history, immigrants have chosen America rather than America's choosing them.

I cannot claim to be an expert historian, but I am not aware of any organized program or specific legislation that invited Irish immigrants to come to this country to escape the potato famine in the 1830's and 1840's, Chinese laborers to help build our great network of railways later in that same century, or Jews to escape the ghettos and pogroms of Czarist Russia around the turn of the last century. There was certainly scant welcome for Jews trying to escape Hitler by coming here in the 1930's, or for the Japanese-Americans interned during the second world war.

Talking about whom to "include in the American experience" has had a negative connotation far more often than a positive one. Except for some relatively recent, narrowly targeted humanitarian refugee programs, America has not specifically invited immigrants very often (the 1965 immigration law might be considered a possible exception), but it has shown itself fully capable of keeping out immigrants whom significant voting groups did not want.

The Chinese exclusion laws (later on extended to bar almost all East Asians and South Asians) and the 1924 "national origins" immigration law (which was not, as some of today's revisionists claim, merely an attempt to lower immigration levels in general, but was specifically targeted against Italians, Jews, Eastern Europeans and Middle Eastern immigrants) speak (or spoke) for themselves.

The second ideological rather than factual statement, appearing at the end of Mr. DeMell's article, is that an immigration reform package must be billed as "pro-American and not pro-immigrant". This statement overlooks a certain tradition in this country, admittedly now considerably eroded, holding that there is no conflict between the two. A visit to the Statue of Liberty provides one example. There are many others.

Mr. DeMell's assumed dichotomy between "pro -immigrant" and "pro-American" also runs into a number of internal contradictions. Many Americans are naturalized US citizens, and are therefore immigrants almost by definition. If they had not been beneficiaries of "pro-immigrant" programs of one kind or another, they would not be Americans today. Many other Americans, though born in this country, have husbands, wives, parents, bothers and sisters, employers, employees, or customers for their businesses who were not. Are the interests of those Americans opposed to those of their non-citizen relatives, co-workers or customers?

Immigration, moreover, has traditionally been a part of our foreign policy. Fong Yue Ting v. U.S., 149 U.S. 698, (1893). America has just wound down one major war and is still engaged in another. Everyone agrees that creating bonds of friendship with the people we claim to be fighting for is essential to any definition of victory. Is keeping as many people as possible from immigrating to America helpful to building these badly needed ties?

Many experts also agree that the value of the US dollar depends in large part on support from just one high immigration country, China. Despite current nativist feeling and legislation, alluded to in my above reference to Senator Schumer, one can justly ask where the American IT industry would be today without the support it has received from India, another high immigration country.

America also has business interests in every part of the world, including Latin America, and millions of American jobs depend on our ability to export US made products. Are American interests abroad helped by restrictive immigration policies at home? These are just a few of the questions we need to take into account when we consider what the differences are, if any, between being "pro-immigrant" and being "pro-American".

Mr. DeMell's article also comes to an unsupported conclusion that it is difficult to allow millions of undocumented workers to compete with American for jobs in a "dwindling labor market". There is a serious question, however, which the Immigration Policy Center has gone into in great detail by issuing a large number of state by state reports over the past year or so, as to whether immigration really causes job losses or whether it creates more jobs.

Joe Uva, the CEO of Univision, the communications company that serves 50 million Latino viewers in the US, was quoted in a recent Financial Times article (August 23) as saying that there are simply not enough Americans around to do all the work, even in the current economy. As a nation, we need to approach these questions in a non-ideological way in order to try to get at the real facts. Mr. DeMell's ideological, rather than factual, approach is not very helpful in this regard.

It is also a sad, but very real fact, that for much of our history, being American meant being white. Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857). Of course, everyone knows that Dred Scott was abolished by the 14th Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship. But then, why do so many people now want to abolish this constitutional protection?

I am, of course, not attributing any support for defining who is an American by race to Mr. DeMell. Obviously, he has no such views and nothing in his article would give the slightest indication that he does. But there is more than a whiff of nationalistic chauvinism in his statements that Americans should choose who can come to this country and that being pro-immigrant is not necessarily being pro-American. This is not the way to contribute to a reasoned and objective discussion of immigration policy or to find solutions that are pro-American, precisely because they are pro-immigrant.

About The Author

Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 30 years.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.