If America Was Nothing But Wilderness, Would Immigrants Still Come?

Glenn Beck has responded to the broadening crisis on the United States southern border in a manner which his fans may find counterintuitive. The Blaze reports:

Glenn Beck on Tuesday announced that he will be bringing tractor-trailers full of food, water, teddy bears and soccer balls to McAllen, Texas on July 19 as a way to help care for some of the roughly 60,000 underage refugees who have crossed into America illegally in 2014.

“Through no fault of their own, they are caught in political crossfire,” Beck said of the children. “And while we continue to put pressure on Washington and change its course of lawlessness, we must also help. It is not either, or. It is both. We have to be active in the political game, and we must open our hearts.”


Beck’s announcement came as President Barrack Obama called upon Congress to appropriate nearly $4 billion to fund federal response to the crisis. Forbes reports:

The money will be used to set up new detention facilities, conduct more aerial surveillance and hire immigration judges and border patrol agents to respond to over 52,000 unaccompanied children and 39,000 adults with children who have made the dangerous journey across the border.

The inhumane conditions in which these migrant children are living motivates both political and charitable action. Texas governor Rick Perry has called the situation “a humanitarian crisis.” From across the political spectrum, commentators and power brokers seem to agree that aid must be provided.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said it well: “Plainly, the situation for many of these unaccompanied children is extremely dire, and the United States has both a security and a moral obligation to help solve the crisis at hand.”

Into this mix, consider some uncomfortable but relevant questions. If there was no one here in this place we call America, no government to appropriate funds, no greedy capitalists to rally charity, and no heartstrings on which to pull, would these immigrants still come here? If America was nothing but wilderness, a vast untamed expense as our forbears found it, would the rest of the world still send their children?


Put yet another way, if refugees escaped to the middle of nowhere instead of a populated sovereign state, would it still be a humanitarian crisis? At what point does another person’s need become your responsibility? When they cross your state’s border? When they enter your town? Once they’re televised?

By what moral calculation did your birth indebt you to them? Why didn’t their birth indebt them to you? Do you exist to provide for other’s need? If so, who exists to provide for yours?

These questions emerge from reflection upon the difference between modern immigration to the United States and historical immigration predating the welfare state. So often, in the immigration debate, we hear some variation upon this theme: America is a nation of immigrants. Indeed, it is. However, the immigrants who came here for most of the nation’s history did so without expectation of provision. The earliest settlers arrived to vast untamed wilderness with no guarantee of survival whatsoever. They dug life out of the ground and built a nation from scratch. The waves which followed sought the freedom to pursue their happiness, not subsidies or refugee camps.

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 15:24 minutes long; 14.85 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)



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