Friday, February 7, 2014

Immigrant Son (II)

You probably know the parable, the one about the vineyard workers (Mt. 20:1-16). 

The landowner picked workers throughout the hot day, starting in the morning.  At day’s end, he paid them all the same regardless of what hour they’d started. 

Naturally, the laborers picked in the morning were burned, in more ways than one.  They were upset at working harder for a lower hourly wage.  They thought they’d been treated unfairly.

The landowner rebuffed their grumbling.  They’d gotten what they’d bargained for.  Further, he asserted his right to do what he wanted with his money: in this instance, to pay everyone the same amount regardless of when they’d started.

“Are you envious because I am generous?” he asked.

It was the question my friend asked me (referenced in Part I) about legal immigrants’ disposition towards illegal ones and immigration reform.  Wouldn't their resentment put them in the position of the laborers called early in the morning?  Hadn’t they gotten what they bargained for?  Wasn’t the U.S. free to do what it wished with its welcome mat?  Aren't they deserving of rebuff?

With respect to the parable, descending into its particulars would cause us to miss the point.  Jesus was teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is open to everyone who responds to God’s call, be it at the age of reason or on one’s deathbed.  That is good news, indeed!  

The proper disposition for believers is to rejoice that saints like Dismas, the good thief who repented on the cross, “stole heaven.”  This gives us all reason to hope.

The simple answer in the case of legal immigrants disapproving of the machinations taking place in D.C.’s corridors of power is no, they don’t resent America’s generosity. 

As I explained in Part I, legal immigrants, at least those of an earlier vintage, love America precisely for its generosity, for giving them freedom to pursue their little piece of the American dream in dignity.

Unlike the workers called in the morning, those called later didn’t accept an offer to work for a denarius.  The landowner called them and offered to give them “whatever is right.”  They trusted his word and in his generosity.

Not so the case with illegal immigrants.  “The landowner” did not call them.  They are like workers who snuck into the vineyard and are presenting themselves for pay without any agreement, and despite having been turned away.  America, unlike heaven, is not open to everyone.

Those in the shadows were not offered a deal to emigrate in violation of America’s borders and laws for “whatever is right.”  They had no reasonable expectation of any beneficial recompense other than what they could accumulate while here.  It was worth it to them anyway.

Legal immigrants don’t resent Americans’ big hearts.  But, unlike workers in the parable called early, they do have reason to complain.

They have cause to resent that conditions established to partake of America’s generosity are applied with double standards.  The rule of law, a necessary condition of the American project, is weakened where double standards prevail.

Legal immigrants have a right to resent being deceived about generally applicable law.  It transpires—after an enormous expenditure of time, effort and expense on their part to enter and remain in the U.S. legally—that the law wasn’t generally applicable after all.  Surprise!  It didn’t apply to 11 million people who couldn’t bother to honor the law, but whose votes Democrats nonetheless covet, and whose cheap labor the Chamber of Commerce wishes to exploit. 

Legal immigrants rightly resent discovering that law, in the immortal words of Mr. Bumble, “is a ass – a idiot,” just as it is in the countries they escaped. 

In other parts of the world, justice commonly depends on whom you know, whose ring you kiss, etc.  America is hardly spotless in this regard.  But here, rank demonstrations of power, influence, cronyism and corruption still raise eyebrows.  Immigration reform as presently construed would give my parents (whom I spoke about in Part I) cause to think they’d been deported back to Latin America, where people routinely prefer to ask, after the fact, for pardon rather than permission.

Legal immigrants might, therefore, resent that their adopted home has been reduced to a developing-world backwater.

The U.S. may set any conditions it wishes to prescribe for legal entry.  It is the owner of its vineyard.  It has the right to do what it wants with its patrimony.

Once it establishes its agreement with immigrants, however, fairness demands its sticking to it.  If it doesn’t, it acts unjustly, capriciously, not generously, even if for outwardly generous (but inwardly selfish and crassly utilitarian) purposes.

The Obama administration is accustomed to upholding only the laws it approves of and ignoring the rest.  In a perverse way, then, its legislative push to retroactively change the law (to push an inverse ex post facto law) to something more congenial to the Democratic Party’s interests is almost laudable.

For the Republican House to go along at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce, however, would strike me as its making Esau's mistake: to sell one’s birthright for a cup of porridge. 

Legal immigrants are not the only ones with cause to resent the bad pedagogy oozing out of Washington.  Natural-born citizens have just as much right to complain.  We are also being forced to live in a developing-world backwater where the rule of law is merely the rule of men disguised behind legal forms.

Moral hazard is also worth considering.  As sure as God made little green apples, if we subsidize or condone lawbreaking and illegal entry, we’ll get more of it.  At the rate D.C. is going, this teachable moment in America’s always-contentious history will yield the following lesson: “Break the law.  You’ll get your way, eventually.   And, at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.” 

We won’t get the kind of patriotic naturalized citizens I described in Part I of this essay by teaching them that.

Though it doesn’t address the needs of those already here, I do have a question about our current immigration system.  If workers are so desperately needed--if the market is demanding them--why isn’t it easier for them to enter legally?

Is it due to unions jealous of their privileges?  Perhaps it’s due to those who idealize the notion of a pristine American culture.  Perhaps it’s an unholy alliance between the two camps.  Regardless, why should their peculiar interests deprive America of what it apparently needs?

I wonder why our immigration system is not generously open to more legal immigrants, especially from nearby Latin America where cultures are European-based and people are thus more easily assimilable.  It would be shortsighted to insist on their bringing us tangible and immediate benefits beyond a willingness to work hard within the confines of law, and to strive honestly for their dreams. 

I don’t know if my parents would be allowed into the U.S. under the current regime, and I don’t understand why they wouldn’t be.  The country could not possibly do better, even by cherry-picking engineers and physicists, than to invite such loyal, proud and grateful children into its family of citizens.  As I can attest, their patriotism subsists for generations, long after they are gone.  They pass it on, and so do their children. 

I, for one, would like to see the gateways opened wider.  We can survive an influx of people, even a large one.  In fact, we will be richer for it in every way.

Given my personal family experience, I believe that undeniable problems of assimilation are due more to the incoherence of assimilators in the U.S. than to resistance by those who immigrate.  I have written critically of the viewpoint that immigrants pose a threat to American culture on the one hand, and the folly of inviting dependents into the country in order to placate them with free stuff on the other.

I bear the people living in the shadows no ill will.  It is simply not prudent to do anything rash about their presence—either deportation or legalization.  It’s a messy problem, and at present, it’s easier to see what not to do than what to do.

People come to the U.S. illegally, despite dangers and risks, in order merely to sample the American way of life.  That’s one reason why America’s rule of law is worth preserving: it’s worth risking life and limb for.  Their presence also attests to what my elders taught me so many decades ago: America really is the greatest nation on earth!

Immigration "reform" along the lines presently being considered in DC would simply be another of President Obama's manifold actions that hastily ensure this is no longer the case. 

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