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Nation Of Immigrants

June 2024
2min read

Bernard A. Weisberger replies: Let me see if I’ve got Governor Lamm straight. He couldn’t solve all the problems of crime, welfare, schooling, and unemployment in Colorado during his tenure, and it would have been much easier without those darned immigrants on welfare and in jail. He has nothing to say about those legally admitted, naturalized, and working; does he make a distinction? What other “undesirables” can he scapegoat? Will the nation’s problems go away if we stop admitting a million immigrants a year —less than half of one percent of our current population? And are there no methods of population control other than removing the welcome mat for the upwardly striving and oppressed of the world? Lamm calls that a “policy,” which to me is like calling self-government a policy. Should we give that up now, too, because we aren’t the same country we were a century ago?

Linda Thorn’s letter, too long to print in full, did contain impressive statistics arguing that California, at least, has a large population of poor and illegal immigrants who impose a heavy net burden on the taxpayers. That sounds like an argument for better immigration control (including international cooperation in leveling economic conditions among nations) and for enlarged federal assistance to impacted states. I am glad that she doesn’t “condemn the immigrants” for all the agonies of California’s decline since the fading of the Cold War boom and for other blows to the state’s once-robust economy.

I wrote my article primarily to remind readers of what is often overlooked in the current debate: that immigration has been a mighty force for good in our history and that the majority of today’s immigrants work, pay taxes, and have entered legally under statutes that set a limit of seven hundred thousand annually on a preferential-quota basis designed to reunite families, add to the national pool of skills and talents, and rescue refugees.

Mr. Stein, of FAIR, doesn’t like my history, but his own “history” is far wide of the mark. Friendly histories of immigration go back well before the 1950s. They point out, among other things, that the colonies desperately needed labor, and it was the steady inflow of predominantly British immigrants (and slaves) that enabled them to reach the self-sufficiency without which there would have been no Revolution. Stein says that immigrants displaced the Indians. That is, alas, the truth, but only to the Indians do I concede the right to complain about the foreigners. Stein’s nettled tone arises from the fact that he is discomforted by the reminder that he is singing old tunes. And I think it’s important to know what part ethnic and racial stereotypes played in previous nativist movements.

Overall, my critics seem to think that I was reading my politics into the subject. On the contrary, my politics in this matter are conditioned by my knowledge of history. Only a fool would deny that we face serious problems as a nation. I argue simply that we can deal with them within the framework of our past principles. These include welcoming strangers and embracing them within the American family on the basis of merit, not ancestry. If we forget or abandon them, then I would like to paraphrase that sentimental ideologue Abraham Lincoln, as I quoted him in the article, and say that I would prefer emigrating to another country where they take their xenophobia pure, without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

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