But I digress. A key argument in this whole flap is how we deal with legal immigrants. Conservatives say that any path toward citizenship for those who entered the country illegally amounts to a "slap in the face" to those who entered legally. I think the participation of legal immigrants in the marches belies that sentiment pretty decisively. But Cathy offers moral backing to the argument:
I am a legal immigrant myself. As many of you know, I came here with my family in 1980 from the Soviet Union; at the time, we automatically received refugee status on the grounds that we feared persecution in our native country. (Which, actually, was not even technically accurate: the Soviet Jews coming here at the time had to fear persecution only if they wanted to openly practice Judaism -- which, for my non-religious family, was not an issue -- or if they were political dissidents.) And that is something I tremendously appreciate, but I am also aware of the fact that I got a special break due to Cold War politics, and that a lot of people around the world who had as good a claim to fleeing oppression or persecution did not get the same break. So my reaction is not "but I came here legally!" but more like, "There but for the grace of God..."
She then goes on to compare the immigration system to a lottery system--there really is no rhyme or reason to who gets a visa and who doesn't. This essential arbitrariness is what distinguishes illegal immigration from other types of crimes: unlike murder or robbery, its only illegal for some.
I have serious moral qualms about declaring a person illegal for the "crime" of living somewhere. This seems like a rather radical expansion of the concept of criminal culpability. The only comparable offense I can think of is trespassing, and I personally don't think that the proper analogy for the land built by huddled masses is to a private country club. The trespassing analogy also treats the nation as a whole--not just individual homes or businesses--as private property. The idea of a completely privatized public should scare us all. As Ambrose Bierce wrote exactly one century ago:
The right to property implies the right to exclusive use, and therefore the right to expel trespassers. Therefore, if A B and C own all the land, D E and F have no place to be born, or born as trespassers, to exist.
This may seem like a rather stretched analogy, until we remember those who want to expel the children of immigrants, born in the USA. Under this paradigm, these people would be "born as trespassers," and that label seems immoral in a very visceral sense.
The point is that, when debating this topic, the first and foremost concern has to be respect for human dignity. I remarked to a friend earlier tonight that one of the reasons I love the immigration protests is that they are finally putting human dignity back on the political table--we're finally discussing it again. I should have added that this is only a benefit if human dignity wins, and as Cathy reminds us, "anti-immigrant panic has been, again and again, responsible for ungenerous and sometimes downright inhumane policies unworthy of America." Hopefully, narratives like hers can help us break the cycle.