Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge that the only people on this continent who can credibly offer an argument for anti-immigration policy exist primarily on plots of land scattered throughout America specifically reserved for them to remain there as Indians – the ones we found not the ones we sought after.
It’s trapped beneath that inescapable undertow where I hesitantly tread forward.
After President Obama addressed the nation last fall to announce an executive order meant to encourage undocumented immigrants who contribute to America’s labor force to engage the process of naturalization, several state governments made it their mission to convince immigrants who took ungodly risks to flee from their country for a better life to turn around and head back. Under Governor McCrory’s leadership, North Carolina was one of those states. He signed into law HB 318, a bill that prohibits government officials from accepting certain documentation like municipal identification or matricula consularsfrom immigrants. Such a policy furthers the agenda to make E-Verify mandatory, a program that requires anyone who wants employment in the United States to ask the government’s permission prior to employment with the electronic disclosure of private information. This video from the ACLU does a much better job than I can to explain the potential problems existent in the program. In addition, the inability to use municipal identification decreases the likelihood otherwise undocumented immigrants will seek the help of law enforcement for matters like rape and domestic abuse. That sends a pretty strong message for them to leave.
Now, in the context of recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the rising influence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Governor McCrory appealed to the public’s largely uninformed fear of Syrian refugees and their unsubstantiated ties to the very terrorist cells responsible for murdering many of their close relatives and friends. Only three days after the tragic attacks in Paris, he called for an end to a refugee program that allowed entry to the United States through an exhaustive immigration process that already contemplated continuing investigations into the immigrant’s network. The gut reaction Governor McCrory exhibited, which to be fair drew praise from several other state leaders, panders predictively to the exact feelings terrorism is designed to create, as North Carolina singled out Syrian refugees who fled the harsh rule of a faith-based organization. It’s very difficult to take that seriously, most obviously because America is a secular nation the origins of which largely began with a group of people crazy enough to cross the Atlantic in a rackety old ship to precisely avoid the tyranny of divine leadership.
Alas, for a man in the state’s highest political office to make such a declaration, you’d think there was some actual worth to it, so I took the vantage point of his specialty prior to office – business, and forsook against better judgment the limited value of my liberal arts education. Even from that viewpoint, such a policy promises to profoundly harm the state’s economy and security in days to come.
For one thing, a recent case study from Alabama strongly suggests anti-immigration policy fails economically. If Governor McCrory succeeds and undocumented immigrants are forced out of North Carolina, what can we expect? Thomas Morton, a VICE correspondent, reported that Alabama bore witness to an exodus of immigrants in unprecedented amounts after it enacted similar policy in 2011. As a result, Alabama lost an entire workforce necessary to contribute to its GDP. Produce farmers attempted to fill the void left in the wake of Alabama’s immigrant exodus with almost anyone. “They couldn’t hack it, just the sheer physicality of it,” said Jerry Spencer, a produce farmer in Alabama who Morton interviewed in the report. Long story short, immigrants perform jobs no one else wants to perform. You already know that unless your primary residence is under a rock. According to the report, Alabama’s government felt this blow impressively, as it lost over $10,000,000,000, (trump change, I know), in lost income and tax revenues it would have otherwise collected absent the anti-immigration policy. It was devastating for the economy and North Carolina would be wise to pay attention to those results.
So economically it’s a horrible idea, but it must make us safer, right? Wrong. Data suggests crime rates did not drop at all. The drug trade continued in Alabama, probably in large part because the people whose lives depended on drugs continued to depend on drugs after the immigrants left.
As for refugees, the extra screening measures planned for those who hail from targeted nations will likely increase an already excruciating process for refugees to immigrate lawfully to the United States. Such a focus might help fuel political momentum but it comes at the risk of missing entirely the greater danger of the ability of terrorist cells to recruit through their use of the internet. The greater threat to our state and national security lies in the propaganda set forth in the channels of the world wide web. It’s remarkable how well these terrorist networks infiltrate the minds of susceptible youth through the use of 21st century technology. Even the groups steadfast in their belief of 7thcentury geo-political philosophy understand success is measurably greater through access like that.
On the other hand, history suggests that American lives are much safer directly as a result of its open minds and borders, as anti-immigration policy not only threatens the substantive contribution of immigrants, but it also destroys the friendly, self-confident American identity that sets us apart as leaders, innovators, and progressives – the precise collective makeup that makes us the envy, not the contempt, of the world, and the precise collective makeup that makes America the safest place on earth. If we lose that identity, then we lose that security; if we abandon our principles, then we lose the moral backbone that justifies our substantial defense spending.
One example not nearly distant enough in the world’s historical landscape comes to mind. Within the last century, a man accepted a visiting professorship at Cal-Tech while he and his family fled religious persecution at home. A renowned physicist, this man became a professor at a local university in Germany prior to 1933 when he left Germany for good. His professional rise unfortunately coincided with another man’s ascent to power, Adolf Hitler, who eventually secured Germany’s highest post and began to ethnically cleanse Europe.
This man was Albert Einstein, a Jew, and America accepted him where Germany did not, a decision for which the rest of the world is very thankful. Einstein marveled at the citizenry that contributed to America’s culture. His observations as an immigrant, as someone who might now feel unwelcome, are poignant in context of today’s political rhetoric. When he first came to America, he had this to say about its citizens: “the American is friendly, self-confident, optimistic, and without envy” while “the European is more critical, more self-conscious, less kind-hearted and helpful, more isolated.” He reasoned that America stood in the position to shape the future of international policy because its collective moral compass pointed in the direction of good, not evil – an objective value more so than a religious one. That is what made America secure. Despite Einstein’s contempt for the use of science to pursue evil endeavors (like weapons), he put the strongest one comprehensible to man in the hands of our government. Would he trust us now? Are we that same friendly, self-confident, and optimistic people he once knew? Can we be secure without that identity?