Do Pro-Enforcement Advocates Also Wish to Restrict Legal Immigration?

With the Wisconsin v. Union soap opera all the rage these days, illegal immigration and related issues have been on the backburner. But Ruben Navarette Jr., in "The Rank Dishonesty of Immigration Restrictionists," posted on PJM, has nudged the debate a bit further forward.

Open-borders advocates -- and I’m not certain that Mr. Navarette is a part of that company -- commonly confine themselves to calling anyone opposing illegal immigration not only wrong, but racist. Now comes Mr. Navarette, who has broadened the field by adding a more expansive charge: those opposed to illegal immigration must necessarily also oppose legal immigration. Consequently, they hate foreigners, particularly those who are brown skinned.

But before examining Mr. Navarette’s assertions, consider the reality of national sovereignty. All sovereign nations share certain powers -- not rights. Individuals have rights; states have powers -- and responsibilities. Among the most important is the power and responsibility to regulate immigration for the benefit of the people and nation. There is no such thing as a right to immigrate where one chooses. Most nations are far more particular about who is allowed to immigrate than America, to say nothing about being far more punitive toward those who violate their immigration laws. In addition, sovereign nations may dictate the terms of immigration and may mandate certain actions and knowledge, such as  knowledge of American history and government, the ability to speak, read, and write English, and other matters that would tend to assimilate immigrants successfully into American society.

Mr. Navarette begins with the assumption that those who oppose illegal immigration also oppose legal immigration, but are unwilling to admit their perfidy. He writes:

When immigration restrictionists — a posse made up of folks who are put off by the browning of America and pining away for the days of Leave It to Beaver — aren’t trying to keep out foreigners, they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to keep up appearances.

A lot of these folks really want the rest of us to believe that they have  absolutely no beef whatsoever with anyone who plays by the rules and comes to the United States legally.

Mr. Navarrette produces examples:

Like the Rhode Island radio talk show host who interviewed me recently. She tried to convince me that the debate wasn’t about legal immigrants — only the illegal ones.

Or the reader of my syndicated column who accused me of leaving out a  crucial word when I write about the benefits of immigration. “The word is LEGAL,” he wrote. “Legal immigration is what our country is built on."

Or the reader who — responding to something that I’d written for PJM — accused me of misrepresenting what Americans are really concerned about. "It’s anti-illegal-immigration," he wrote. "And we SHOULD NOT TOLERATE the miscasting of this issue as anti-immigration. It’s a base deceit."

Mr. Navarrette is apparently unwilling to take these people at their word. “These poor people,” he intones with feigned sincerity and pity. They’re not being honest, but are trying to explain away the idea that a nation of immigrants is hostile to immigrants. Mr. Navarrette explains:

There is only one problem: what these people so desperately want us to believe isn’t true. Many Americans are worried about LEGAL immigrants. They do want to limit the number of people who come to the United States  legally. They are anti-foreigner.

It’s not about labels. People put up walls when they’re hit with words like  "racist" or "nativist." The terms aren’t important. Call it what you like. The bottom line is that there are many Americans out there who seem to believe  that this was a better, stronger, safer, and more productive country when the population was whiter.

Mr. Navarrette also criticizes Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies for wanting to "end illegal immigration but also limit legal immigration.” Various others, including former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), and Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (R-of course), are included for their immigration crimes.

Navarrette takes pains to note that Sen. Pearce is "the author of Arizona’s dreadful and dysfunctional immigration law SB-1070,” which is the law at the center of the Obama administration's lawsuit against Arizona. Particularly galling -- and to Navarrette’s way of thinking, revealing -- are Pearce’s suggestions:

I do think there ought to be a moratorium, maybe, until we get our act together. …We’re allowing people to come through without complete  background checks, you know, we’re letting people overstay their visas. … Um, there ought to be a timeout all the way around until we get our arms around national security.

Navarrette allows that:

Pearce is partly right. The immigration debate does need a timeout — on  dishonesty. We need to pull the plug on the lies, including the absurd claim that immigration restrictionists aren’t going after legal immigrants.

Of course, they are. And that leads me to ask: what part of legal don’t these people understand?

Nr. Navarrette is correct that people take offense at being called racist or nativist, particularly when they are not. But he is wrong in asserting that the terms aren’t important. For progressives, the terms are the debate, or at the very least, a means to deflect sincere debate. It’s also rather, well, racist, to imply the virtue of virtually unlimited immigration while suggesting that many Americans believe that America was a better country “when the population was whiter.”

I suspect that a great many Americans will read the comments that Mr. Navarrette finds to be deceptive and will instead find them unremarkable. But for Mr. Navarrette, those citizens concerned about illegal immigration become “immigration restrictionists,” who not only wish to control illegal immigration but to entirely eliminate legal immigration, and who are hiding their complete agenda.

One may reasonably argue that a given immigration law is ill-considered, that its unintended consequences outweigh its utility, or that it is unjust and ineffective, but Mr. Navarrette does not do that, at least not in this article. Instead, he seems to suggest that so beyond the pale are those who wish to enforce existing immigration laws that they must also desire no legal immigration. Hence, they hate foreigners, particularly those who are non-white. This line of reasoning is quite a stretch, and one for which he provides no real evidence, only innuendo about the “real” beliefs and intentions of others, beliefs and intentions not supported by his examples.

For most Americans, the debate is indeed about illegal immigration. And while I have no survey results to quote -- I’d be mildly surprised if competent, specific surveys on this particular issue had been done -- my readings, and my conversations with a wide range of people, including a great many of Hispanic descent, indicate that most Americans have little knowledge of, or specific concern about, legal immigration. Most seem to believe that immigration laws, like all others, should be enforced efficiently and uniformly, and if they’re bad laws, ought to be removed from the books.

Mr. Navarrette compounds his problem by implying that any discussion of legal immigration is also beyond the pale. This is a venerable progressive tactic. He seeks to control the debate by defining his opponents' beliefs, motives, and arguments before the debate begins, and trumps any attempt at clarification by declaring such attempts to be deceit that hide an anti-legal immigration agenda. Manifestly they are not. If America is truly sovereign, the Congress may pass laws relating to every facet of immigration, which includes specifying exactly who may or may not enter the nation, how long and under which conditions they may remain, and who may obtain the status of a permanent resident or citizen and how. Debate about the mere existence of such laws -- or of their content -- is certainly legitimate, particularly in America. Is this not why many wish to become Americans?

Arizona Senator Pearce’s comments are also unremarkable. Ensuring that people don’t overstay their visas, that proper and complete background checks be done, and that a moratorium on all immigration be in effect until “we get our arms around national security" sounds very much like common sense to most Americans, yet Mr. Navarrette quotes them as though they are prima facie evidence of all that is wrong in the immigration debate.

While I sympathize with anyone who comes to America from a corrupt, impoverished nation to provide for their family, work hard, assimilate, and obey the law, I also believe that the law must be enforced, or it must be repealed or changed. Skin color is irrelevant. I suspect that most Americans would find that equally unremarkable.

“Pining away for the days of Leave It To Beaver” may, rather than serving as a self-evident, anachronistic totem of jingoistic scorn, reveal Mr. Navarrette’s disconnect with the American public. The last two years of Obamistic enlightenment may well have most Americans longing for responsible adults in two-parent families who work hard, love each other, value the truth, believe in personal responsibility, and raise their children to do the same. Come to think of it, those sound like the qualities that one might hope to find in any American or immigrant family.

Those Mr. Navarrette holds up for scorn as “immigration restrictionists” are instead reasonable, sincere citizens who are attempting only to encourage Mr. Navarrette and others to honestly represent their belief that immigration laws should be enforced. This is clearly not the same thing as hating immigrants, opposing legal immigration, or hating foreigners. No doubt many legal immigrants would agree. Would Mr. Navarrette consider them “immigration restrictionists” too?

The only absurd claim here is that those who believe that illegal immigration should cease must also believe that all legal immigration should cease and are, for nefarious reasons, lying about it. Even if everyone who opposed illegal immigration also automatically opposed legal immigration, this is a matter for reasoned debate, not progressive attempts to short-circuit it.

Ultimately, I am led to ask: what part of national sovereignty and the rule of law don’t you understand, Mr. Navarrette?