America was built on the great debates of its past. States’ sovereignty, civil rights and foreign policy have all been debated by way of the pen, the speech and the sword.
Immigration is not a new debate. In fact, it as old as the country, or for that matter, mankind. Immigration is a touchy issue because you are either accused of being a bigot or a bleeding-heart once your position on the issue is voiced.
While President Barack Obama continues to focus more on fund-raising and golfing, ignoring the crisis on our southern border, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other border states are considering activating their National Guard units to deal with the crisis. In turn, the U.S. Department of State is actually considering granting refugee status to children currently in Honduras. However, neither of these actions will do much to address the root causes of our current immigration dilemma. Our nation has immigration laws on the books and a defined pathway to citizenship. It is the failure of government, at all levels, that has led our nation to this predicament.
The first thing we have to do is not confuse citizenship with immigration. The 14th Amendment, Section I defined citizenship for the early residents of the new United States. The Naturalization Act of 1795 (which replaced the Naturalization Act of 1790) started America down the course of understanding what was expected in order to become a citizen of the United States. However, the Naturalization Act does not specifically address the issue of illegal immigration. These acts are important because they will be used later by the federal government to expand its power in the area of immigration. But these acts only serve to answer the question “when does a ‘legal’ immigrant become a citizen?”
Some people believe Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution grants the federal government domain over immigration. Article IV speaks to the responsibility of the federal government to protect the states from invasion, but does not use the word immigration. Although it can be argued that millions of criminal aliens ignoring our national borders are evidence of an invasion, I am pretty confident it is not the sort of “invasion” our Founding Fathers had in mind.
Other learned Americans believe the 9th and 10th amendments of the Constitution provide some legal relief and grant some purview of the individual states to manage immigration. In fact, history shows us the sovereignty of each of the states, including immigration, was principal during the writing and debate of the U.S. Constitution. One only needs to look to the statements of George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison during the Constitutional Convention to understand how important state sovereignty was.
It was this belief of state sovereignty that found local authorities or state governors issuing passports to travelers during the early years of America. This belief was further supported after the Civil War when each of the Confederate states “rewrote” their constitutions by order of the Congress. Article XI, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution mandated the creation of a Bureau of Immigration, with a superintendent of immigration appointed by the Texas governor, and approved by the state Senate. The job description of Texas superintendent of immigration stated that he/she “shall have supervision and control of all matters connected with immigration.”
Through the course of time more and more control over immigration was seized by the federal government. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Immigration Act of 1917 and 1924, all advanced to place control over immigration in the hands of Washington, D.C. Most of these acts were truly based in racism and were eventually replaced with new acts or abandoned by lack of enforcement.
It is the most recent immigration acts that cemented the belief that absolute control rests with the federal government, but illustrates why we are now in the mess we are in. The Immigration Act of 1965 (sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, the current cosponsor of today’s immigration act) was supposed to restrict the flow of Mexican immigration (sound familiar?). But illegal immigration continued. The Immigration “Reform” and Control Act of 1986 granted amnesty to illegal immigrants and made it a crime for employees to hire illegal immigrants (once again…;sound familiar?). With this latest push for “comprehensive immigration reform,” we are simply reverting back to the already failed policies of the past.
One could argue the federal government technically did not have any constitutional basis to solely control immigration to the degree that it did and continues to do. When our representatives write and pass laws that are in opposition to our Constitution, and those laws go unchecked, we find ourselves dealing with more problems than these laws were intended to resolve. Not to actively involve the states in a matter that directly affects them, or for the states to ignore our immigration statutes at their leisure (“sanctuary cities,” issuing driver’s licenses to criminal aliens, etc.) has resulted in the breakdown of law and order as it pertains to immigration.
History tells us immigration was once the domain of the states. Imagine if we turned immigration back over to the states. Each state could decide how they wanted to handle immigration, and no “federal funds” would be afforded in this sovereign endeavor. Should California decide (as it already has) to let anyone and everyone into the state, then so be it. No other state would have to honor that commitment, and the monetary burden (make no mistake about it, it is a burden) would rest solely with the fine citizens of California.
In the end, we will never solve our immigration issues if we continue down the path we have been walking. Those who promote open borders and amnesty believe they are being compassionate, but all they are doing is adding to the already heavy financial and cultural burden of future generations. Those who promote the mantra of no immigration ignore the promise of what America means to the right immigrant. The right laws are important, but enforcement of those laws is paramount. Border control is required, to include physical barriers where needed, to ensure the sovereignty of the “United States” of America. But neither the laws nor the barriers should be so overwhelming that they would stop those immigrants who can add to America’s prosperity and truly want to participate in the American dream.