For Freedom, They Will Come

March 16th, 2010

By Brianna Aubin

Everyone has at some point been forced to listen to the immigration debate, from the loonies on the right who want to build a wall at the Mexican border and the bleeding hearts on the left who want to grant amnesty to everyone, give them plenty of welfare money, and not make them learn the language or assimilate into the culture because apparently it’s evil to expect immigrants to actually feel some form of loyalty to the country they freely chose to join.

The debate is so omnipresent in America that it’s practically become an aspect of the water Americans swim in — expected, natural, and completely unworthy of comment.  And because the issue is so ubiquitous in our society, the basic underlying question tends to go unnoticed and seldom gets asked.  But it needs to get asked, because it’s very, very important to the political and social events going on in America right now, which I believe will eventually become central to the question of who and what America is as a nation.

The question is this:  Why is immigration an issue in America?

Seriously, think about it.  This country has been dealing with the issue of immigration for nearly its entire history.  Immigration to the United States was fairly low-level until 1820 or so, at which point it gradually started to increase.  Between 1836 and 1914, over 30 million Europeans immigrated to the United States, and this despite the fact that in those days, roughly one in seven didn’t even survive the trip.  Since the population of the United States in 1914 was a little over 100 million, this means that probably about half of our country at that point was either an immigrant or descended from one.

We took in nearly a million “boat people” from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam in the 1970s and 1980s.  People come here via rickety boat from Cuba (though Michael Moore is still at a loss as to why they bother, since their health care in Cuba is apparently so much better than anything they can get here).

The only point in our nation’s history where emigrants outnumbered immigrants was in the early 1930s, when we were in the first throes of the Great Depression.  At all other times, at every other time in our history, the number of people coming in has exceeded (often vastly exceeded) the number of people trying to leave.

There are immigrants at every level of our society, from migrant fruit pickers in orchards to the dozen or so students and professors I see every day at school (and these are just the ones whose names I can recall offhand, and who actually want to be citizens as opposed to permanent residents) who have either already become full citizens or are in the process of obtaining citizenship.  Many of our greatest scientists and entrepreneurs (Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Sam Insull, to name a few) were immigrants who got their chance upon coming to this country.

People have always rushed to come to the United States, sometimes to the point where they’ll risk everything for it.  There are more people clamoring to get in every day.  Even Google can’t find anyone who wants to leave the US; run the search “emigration America” and a little message will pop up asking, “Did you mean immigration America?”

Contrast this to the Third World countries that nobody can wait to leave, or to the European countries that have been complaining about brain drain for literally half a decade.  The comparison is mind-boggling.

So now that we’ve established that the United States has been, for pretty much its entire history, a country that people are so crazy to get to that they will (in no particular order of desperation) spend their life savings, refuse to return to their home countries when their visas expire, bribe officials for documents, hire illegal guides to cross the border in the dead of night, marry people they don’t care about, and risk death crossing oceans in rickety boats in order to become American, let us return to the basic question:  Why?

It can’t be because of America’s great social welfare programs; they’re the least comprehensive of any in the developed world.  It can’t be for our sophistication; America is lambasted through the world for being a bunch of idiot evangelical rednecks.  It can’t be because we are perceived as so giving and friendly (though by and large, we are); about half of Europe thinks we’re greedy and immoral for our supposedly irrational capitalist leanings.  So what is it?

In a word?  Freedom.  And not just any type of freedom, either.  Nowadays, you can find a lot of people who think that in order to be free, government has to guarantee you that you’ll never go hungry, cold, or ill.  But that’s not what freedom is.  Freedom is not the guarantee that you’ll always be taken care of and nothing bad will ever happen to you (else where goes the freedom of the people who are supposed to give up their hard-earned belongings in order to guarantee you these things?).  Rather, freedom is the freedom from the unwanted interference of others in your life, including the interference of government officials who don’t understand why they don’t have a right to rob you in the name of the common good.  Freedom is the right to life, liberty, honestly earned property, and the pursuit of happiness.  It is the explicit premise of the United States of America, and the lure of it has been so strong that we’ve had millions upon millions of people banging on the door for over 200 years in order to get it.

None of this means that immigration is not an issue.  But it does mean that while we debate it, we should keep in mind just why it is an issue, and how much less desirable the alternative would be.  Because the day immigration ceases to be an issue in America will be the day that we have lost the thing that makes this country so attractive to immigrants.  And that would be a far more serious problem for America than any problem caused by the 200-year-long inflow of immigrants ever could be.

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4 Responses to “For Freedom, They Will Come”

  1. Tom |

    It’s an obvious question that makes a very important point. Problem is, making that point drives leftists crazy because it’s inconsistent with their conviction that the U.S. is such a terrible country. Their primary problem is ignorance — if they had lived in a variety of other countries and could see things with an open mind, they would understand.

    It reminds me of the old joke (not PC these days) about two women walking past a construction site. As the workers let loose with wolf whistles, one woman says to the other, “Doesn’t that just make you so mad?” The other responds, “No, it won’t bother me until they stop whistling!”

  2. Brianna |

    Tom, I’m not so sure that they would come around if they just lived in other countries. I am frankly not so sure that many of them are even capable of opening their minds at this point. The facts are so overwhelmingly clear that I don’t see how anyone could evade them, except for by their own will or through big heaps of Progressive education.

    I have a friend in the aerospace department that was actually born in Communist poland, in 1983 or 1984. When I realized this and asked him if he could remember anything, he said, “Oh, sure. The store shelves were empty except for bottles and bottles of vinegar, except for when even the vinegar was gone because someone bought it to make vodka. Everyone got everything they could through farms and the black market, and what they couldn’t get that way they got by skimming off the government, who employed everyone.” This despite the fact that he left Poland around age 10.

    I have another friend who visited Georgia as a teenager, before the Wall fell. I’ve never heard her say anything about it that didn’t relate to linguistics (she is a wordsmith by trade). Conditions had to have been just as bad in Georgia as they were in Poland. But she never mentioned anything. As far as I know she either didn’t see it, or just said to herself that “Well, that’s just because they’re not doing it right.”

    There comes a point at which ignorance really does become willful and deliberate. Not everyone who doesn’t see the truth has reached this point, but I think some people have. And I have no idea how to make a person see something once they themselves have decided that they don’t want to look.

  3. larry |

    Far to many natural born U.S. citizens take Freedom for granted. These same citizens also criticize any and all persons that point out the fact that we live in the greatest country on earth. It’s disgusting to hear someone who has profited greatly in our country complain about what a terrible country this is.
    I can’t address the topic of living outside this country. I’ll leave that to those that do.
    I do think that immigration has become a major problem here simply because we have ,for now anyway, reached a saturation point for how many extra people we can take into the system.

  4. Tom |

    Brianna, I think you’re right. There are those people who seem unable to adjust their thinking or change their minds, no matter how much they see or experience for themselves.

    In political terms, for example, the idea that communism has failed everywhere it’s been tried simply because it wasn’t done right is common among those on the far left. A relatively small amount of education and thought is all that’s necessary to understand how wrong that idea is. I’ve also had the experience of living in former communist countries for about 16 years, and I’ve spent time in others. I’ve had many, many conversations with people about what their lives were like then and now, and it’s rare indeed to find anyone who would go back to the days of communism, although many have been unhappy about the conditions they lived through during the transition.

    I also met and talked to quite a few people living under communism before the Soviet system collapsed. These were mostly East Germans and Soviet Army officers (and a number of their wives, at social events). All were guarded in conversation, of course, and there’s no doubt that some were true believers. Often, though, I could see in their eyes and in their manner that they were fascinated to meet and talk to Americans (me and others) and that there were things they would have liked to say and questions they would have liked to ask but couldn’t.

    Larry, I agree that too many Americans take freedom for granted. That’s caused by ignorance in many cases and an insistence on ignoring facts in others. As far as immigration is concerned, we need to be careful to distinguish between illegal immigration, which an issue that must be addressed and resolved, and legal immigration. If you go back far enough, almost everyone in the U.S. is descended from immigrants. They’re a big part of our strength, and we should continue to encourage them to come — provided that they contribute to our society (manual workers or scientists, whatever) and want to assimilate.

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