A most remarkable event, recently held at the Northern Illinois University Naperville campus, suggests that the country could soon see meaningful immigration reform, something both parties have been trying to accomplish for the last 30 years. The event was organized by the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, co-sponsored by NIU, and included a panel composed of members of the academic community and faith-based organizations.
If they had been the only ones there, it would not have been very remarkable. What made it truly exceptional was that it was also co-sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
There are plenty of things this country should do for reasons of humanity and morality, but doesn’t. Moral imperatives are commonplace, but while they do have the power to stir men’s blood, they don’t have the power to get them out of their chairs. Throw in a little economic motivation, however, and suddenly the imperative makes “common sense.”
Common sense immigration reform is reform that creates jobs, gives immigrants the stability to invest in this country, increases the number of high tech immigrants to fill jobs that undereducated Americans cannot, and gives farmers access to harvest workers that are stronger, tougher and more highly motivated than the folks they’ve been able to hire locally.
Common sense immigration reform is reform that doubles the number of border patrol agents to a whopping 40,000, does extensive criminal background checks, establishes an electronic employment verification system, and denies immigrants federal health benefits for 10 years.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, a bill that passed in the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support, is that kind of common sense immigration reform. Accordingly, it satisfies mainstream conservatives, the kind of conservatives who were in that meeting at NIU.
But it offends cultural conservatives, who are determined to use their political power to prevent any change to what they consider traditional U.S. culture, whatever that is. Xenophobic and intolerant, they consider the Senate bill “amnesty” because it also provides a difficult 13-year path to citizenship, and they have warned the House leadership not to even consider it.
While a path to legalization is essential for practical reasons, it is indeed true that citizenship should be a separate and much more serious matter. In fact, roughly half the immigrants who gain legal status in this country decide for various reasons not to become citizens.
And that’s fine. A citizen should be a person who passionately believes in the proposition to which this country was dedicated, namely that all men are created equal. If you don’t believe that, you shouldn’t be a citizen no matter where you were born and you shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Just imagine whom we might elect if voting were restricted to those who truly believed in universal equality and unalienable rights.
Where I differ with cultural conservatives is that I see nothing about simply being born in this country that makes someone particularly worthy. Given a choice between a man who illegally dragged his starving family across the border to look for honest work and either a city gangbanger or a rural bigot, I will choose the illegal immigrant as my countryman every single time.
That’s because this is a country united not by race, nationality, or religion but by a revolutionary idea. If you believe in that idea, you should be welcome to come here. If you don’t, you should go live somewhere else. And that’s the kind of common sense immigration reform I personally would like to see Congress enact.