Our immigration laws have a history, and it’s not pretty. A recent segment of the Rachel Maddow show provided a glimpse of how the foundation of immigration policy was an effort to make the country white again, based on the 1890 census. Knowing more about the origin and intent of immigration legislation, the current controversies make more sense. It’s kind of spooky comparing statements made in the 1920’s with some of the positions taken today.
Ignoring the history of the legislation and focusing solely on the law itself makes it easier to emphasize the fact that undocumented immigrants haven’t “followed the law”. That, ipso facto makes them “illegal”. Somehow that reasoning never seems to extend to situations such as, oh, say speeding. Does driving over the posted speed limit make one an “illegal driver”? The focus on lawfulness also glosses over the arbitrary nature of the laws and their way they are enforced. Raise the posted speed limit and voilá, fewer “illegals”. Should “illegal drivers” have their licenses revoked and be permanently banned from driving? Seems a bit harsh, eh? Reasonable answers to these kinds of questions need to be based not only on the nature of the laws but also on a consideration of the larger context—the Big Picture—that includes issues such as impact on the community. Immigration policy is patently more complicated than traffic control, and wrestling with it intelligently requires an understanding and appreciation of how we got here.
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