The United States is a nation built on the dreams and hard work of immigrants, and on the rule of law. It needs an immigration system competent enough to keep out newcomers who would endanger us and compassionate enough to welcome those who can strengthen us.
The current system isn’t good enough at doing either. That has contributed to the political rise of Donald Trump who, in addressing the issue Wednesday night, skillfully blended true and false accusations and possible and impossible policies. What he crafted was a message meant to reassure his most anti-immigrant supporters while granting political cover to those who have areas of agreement with the billionaire but reject his inflammatory rhetoric.
It didn’t quite work, for while his speech in Phoenix did contain valid points, it also painted us as a fearful nation besieged by violent, thieving, benefit-sucking hordes of immigrants here illegally, which simply isn’t true.
Speaking after his return from a meeting in Mexico with President Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump presented a 10-point plan for solving our immigration woes. He is right that we have to deport dangerous criminals who are here illegally, and crack down severely on any business that illegally employs undocumented workers. But he is wrong when he demonizes those workers, and when he says we can’t safely accept refugee families from Syria, and suggests that immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom helped U.S. forces in those countries, can’t be vetted and allowed in.
And at the core of his message is a complete distortion of two things: Trump would have us believe illegal immigration is a crippling issue that can be solved with minimal effort. In truth, it is a manageable problem that is far from easy to address.
The highlight of his speech was Trump’s “tangible, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall,” which he says he’ll start building on day one to stop the flow of felons, drugs, guns and cash. When Trump’s opponents claim we can’t build or afford such a wall, they’re falling into a trap. We’re the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world. We can build what we want. But why should we want to do this? We’re also a most welcoming nation, one that has never feared change and challenges. We don’t need to cower behind concrete barriers.
We do have significant immigration issues, but it’s not the immigration apocalypse. We do need a much better system to control and track who comes into our country. We do not need jackbooted deportation teams going door to door looking for immigrants to expel.
And we should not, as Trump said, be a nation that decides to “choose immigrants based on merit. Merit, skill and proficiency.” Instead, we must stick with the guidelines inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The golden door must remain open and the wretched refuse welcome. The magic of the United States is not that we accept only the best. It’s that we also accept those who need to be lifted up, and that they lift us up in turn, assimilating into our culture even as they enrich it. — The editorial board