In a new interview with Breitbart, legendary conservative author and activist Phyllis Schlafy confidently lists immigration as the “most pressing issue facing the country today.” It certainly proves one of the most divisive. Immigration is not a single issue, but a place at which several controversial issues intersect. Those intertwining issues become so easily convoluted that even people with shared values arrive at vastly different conclusions regarding the immigration ideal. One of Schlafly’s insights helps demonstrate the complication:
Schlafly explained that immigration represents an existential issue for the nation: “If we don’t stop immigration—this torrent of immigrants coming in—we’re not going to be America anymore because most of the people coming in have no experience with limited government. They don’t know what that is. They look to the government to solve all of their problems, and as soon as we have a high majority of people who think that, it’s going to be a different country.”
It’s hard to dispute Schlafly’s premise. But there is more to it than she articulates. As proponents of looser immigration policy frequently point out, immigration has been a defining attribute of the American experience since before the nation formed. In fact, it could be argued that immigration made America into the thing which Schlafly now fears it may not remain.
The problem is not immigration but the motives for immigration. Schlafly notes that “people coming in have no experience with limited government.” But those who came in the past sought such experience. They came here specifically because our government was limited, to benefit from the liberty such limitation provides. Those who “look to the government to solve all of their problems” would not have been attracted to the America of the past. It’s our subsequent embrace of entitlement which has created a magnet for immigrants with different motives.
It’s vital to note the role that motive plays in immigration, because from there we may proceed to unwind the tangled web of issues that intersect at immigration policy. Simply building a wall or pausing immigration will not solve the fundamental problems that Schlafly, Donald Trump, and others note. Immigrants haven’t endangered the American identity. We have, by embracing un-American policies that have fundamentally transformed our libertarian character.