During the speculation surrounding the cabinet appointments of then President-elect Donald Trump, the New York Times described Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), recently confirmed as Attorney General, as “anti-immigrant.” Attorney General Sessions has expressed nothing hateful towards people who leave their countries in search of a better way of life, a chance to exercise their religion, hope for the future, or any other reason, for that matter.
Instead, Sessions desires to see a sovereign people protected by the laws passed by their elected representatives, which would involve one of the few activities that our Constitution expressly authorizes Congress to do: “The Congress shall have Power . . . To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization” (Article I, Section 8). Coupled with aspersions cast during a 1986 confirmation hearing, critics take this position as sufficient grounds to label Sessions as “hateful,” “bigoted,” “angry,” and “racist.”
I don’t intend to write a paean to the sterling former senator, as others have already capably defended his legacy and his record. Instead, I would like to elaborate on the distinction between enforcing immigration laws and hating immigrants.
It’s the Policy – Not the People
Opposing illegal immigration does not equate to opposing all immigrants everywhere. Even if you want to enforce immigration laws, that doesn’t mean you are against people who have immigrated illegally as people, which is what “anti-immigrant” implies.
Almost no relation towards our country warms my heart more than that of an outsider looking in who would rather become a part of our country than of any other one on earth, their own included. I’d even assert positively that immigrants are in a position to bring a vital respect and enthusiasm for America that her own children too often lack. Take, for example, the testimony of Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger:
I finally arrived here in 1968. What a special day it was. I remember I arrived here with empty pockets but full of dreams, full of determination, full of desire. The presidential campaign was in full swing. I remember watching the Nixon–Humphrey presidential race on TV. A friend of mine who spoke German and English translated for me. I heard Humphrey saying things that sounded like socialism, which I had just left.
But then I heard Nixon speak. He was talking about free enterprise, getting the government off your back, lowering the taxes and strengthening the military. Listening to Nixon speak sounded more like a breath of fresh air.
A Nation Dedicated to a Proposition
Frankly, I think that some of the best potential Americans in the world are those who come from backgrounds where authoritarians exert their will to crush the people they “govern” by jailing journalists, shooting dissidents, and bombing subjects. These are the people who understand what mankind is capable of.
That depends, of course, on at least a minimal standard of value and ideology vetting–something perfectly consistent with the idea of a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” I would never support policing thought-crime, but we are under no obligation to admit into our country those who disagree with that founding declaration, especially when that underlying hostility to the equality of dignity and rights manifests itself in barbaric practices.
People who boast about exploiting our welcoming borders to conduct terrorist operations are extreme cases — but their milder-mannered sympathizers aren’t people I’d want to share a country with, either. To invoke a bipartisan example: Public members of some foreign KKK would probably be denounced as unfit for access to American residence, let alone citizenship, by the entire political spectrum.
A Duty to Protect
The consequences of enforcing a uniform law include sending back home those who have violated that law. That many come here illegally seeking a better life is past doubt. Nonetheless, it is reckless to draw all attention to a single class of sympathetic cases as justification for a policy that categorically allows for far more.
Our government has a duty to protect the safety and dignity of the 320 million people who already live here, the members of the social compact that is America, whose sovereignty validates the Constitution and whose elected representatives have determined what procedures govern admission and membership into our country. There is more than enough evidence that illegal immigrants have violated the lives and liberties of American citizens on American soil.
If Attorney General Sessions wants to enforce laws widely supported by Americans, including by legal immigrants, that does not make him “anti-immigrant,” or “hard-line.” There is no more ethical scandal in keeping illegal immigrants out of our country than there is in keeping trespassers off your own private property—off your lawn or out of your house. There’s as much of a gulf between cherishing national security and recklessly jeopardizing American lives, as there is between loving immigrants and detesting illegal immigration.