On Drugs And Immigrants, We Either Believe In Freedom Or We Don’t

Those who affiliate themselves, either casually or intensely, with the right wing of the political spectrum need to seriously look themselves in the mirror as regards our policies toward our southern neighbors.

On immigration and the War on Drugs, nativism and paternalism seem to be the dominant fundamentalisms of those who most frequently espouse a fondness for freedom and liberty. On immigration especially, nativism goes directly against not only what America is, a nation of immigrants, but against the beacon of liberty that conservative icon Ronald Reagan characterized America as:

Robinson correctly observes that Reagan would have had nothing to do with the anger and inflamed rhetoric that so often marks the immigration debate today. “Ronald Reagan was no kind of nativist,” he concludes, noting that Reagan was always reaching out to voters beyond the traditional Republican base, including the fast-growing Hispanic population.

It’s worth remembering that Reagan signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which opened the door to citizenship for nearly 3 million people who had been living in the country illegally. Robinson is confident Reagan would have supported the kind of comprehensive immigration reform championed by President George W. Bush and approved by the Senate in 2006.

This will seem quite harsh, but I will say it frankly and succinctly: If you think that a child born in this country but the parents of illegal immigrants should be deported, you don’t believe in freedom. You believe in something else; something antithetical to the beautiful message which adorns the Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Unlike Lady Liberty, this is no symbolic beauty or truth to nativism. It is ugly, demagogic and wrong. It’s bad for the economy, bad for our relations with other countries and bad for our soul. Today’s nativists will be remembered shamefully by future generations in the same way that we look with shagrin at the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese or turn of the century hibernophobia.

The Republican Party needs not only candidates who will revive the immigration reform that George W. Bush failed at, but also that will realize the folly of our War on Drugs. I have noted numerously at UL the massive avenue for racketeering that has been opened up in Mexico by our policies. Jacob Sullum at Reason magazine has also made similar arguments.

While I was in Washington D.C., I found it highly upsetting to sit in hearings where Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein would talk about the need for “demand reduction” in meeting the chaos in Mexico, as if the government had the authority, let alone the capability, to reduce the demand of a product. Legalization was mentioned, but only with dismissal. With SWAT teams bursting into homes and kiling family pets while in pursuit of a “small amount” of marijuana in Missouri and cartels murdering families in Ciudad Juarez, politicians in D.C. seem to be hanging on to this paternalistic crusade for pride reasons. (After all, who would re-elect someone who admits to having been wrong for years?)

The two issues are not unrelated. Imagine that you are a law-abiding family man in Mexico. You want your children to have decent jobs and not get caught up in the drug trade to get by. The immigration bureaucracy is impenetrable, and the only possibility you see for your children to be decent is to cross over illegally. Does that really sound like the dilemma of a malicious criminal? If not, why do we treat him like one?

If the Republican Party fails in this avenue, it may be up to Democrats, who Hispanics seem to be swinging to, to pick up the slack. Democrats would be wise, however, to realize that immigrants come here from Mexico for freedom and opportunity - not to become a homogenous voting bloc whose very potential as individuals is defined by political outcomes, often the tragic fate of other minority groups in the United States.

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