Immigration, Terror and Xenophobia


Was it too easy for Faisal Shahzad, the man suspected of leaving a bomb to explode at Times Square, to become a citizen? The question is being raised by folks concerned about immigration reform. We need to close our borders, they say. Arizona is but a symptom of a far larger problem.

There seems to be an unholy alliance gathering shape: fear of foreigners, a desire to close the borders, terrorism. All these are becoming linked into one gigantic sense that the "other," out there, somewhere and barrelling down hard on our dreams, must be stopped.

But let's face a few facts. Very few of those reading this post are not immigrants from a foreign land. My father, for example, was until the day he died at 84, an illegal immigrant who snuck into this country from Crete. I was born here, and am just barely legal, I suppose. It seems pointless to suggest that as the American pie shrinks, we late arrivals get to the tell the rest of the world to stand by and starve.

People will seek opportunities. And if we give them opportunities, they will come. Want to get serious about immigration reform? Then enact harsh penalties on folks who employ them. When there are no jobs there will be no immigrants. We have illegal immigrants because we like cheap labor.

Go ahead and build a new Hadrian's wall, this one along the border to Mexico. My prediction is that people will still find a way into this country. All that we will have accomplished is spending lavishly on law enforcement. One of the prime forces making for historical change is the movement of peoples. You can't stop history.

But surely history can be influenced, and we are not left to mere fatalism.

Terrorists seek to force the pace of change. A well placed bomb or two and a nation can lose its commitment to the liberties that define it. Ask U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is prepared to shred the Constitution in the name of security. He will get a boost in the polls for pandering to fear. It's the way things are in the herd, and all us, like or not, are pack animals.

But it troubles me still to see the Times Square attack linked to the debate on immigration reform. My hunch is that some truly horrid law will be belched out of Congress in the next couple of weeks. Arizona's bold new legislation is but the occasion for the federal legislation; a contributing cause will be the hysteria that we've let too many folks into the country. Why we've naturalized sleeper cells, shadowy creatures taking a long and patient view of our destruction.

Perhaps we have. But I fear the destruction we can wreak upon ourselves far more than I do a suicide bomber. I just might die today or someday soon from a random act of violence flamed by hatred of the freedoms I enjoy. But I'd rather die that death than the slow strangulation of closed borders, closed minds and a Government untethered from the limits of arbitrary power.

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