The glorious Fourth of July arrives again next week, and with it, Americans will seize the chance to congratulate themselves on the triumph of freedom and the democratic values that this unique experiment in self-government represents. But this holiday is also an opportunity to place the question of immigration — one of the most vexing political issues of the day — in perspective.
The inability of the Senate to pass a compromise bill on immigration reform is the result not just of the usual Capitol Hill log-jam, but also of the growing constituency for resistance to any effort to normalize the status of the more than 10 million people in this country without legal permission to be here.
Though it includes an emphasis on patrolling borders, the bill — though in many ways deeply flawed — also provides a path for huge numbers of undocumented immigrants to gain legal status, and perhaps even citizenship. This measure has been roundly denounced as "amnesty" and a betrayal of the rule of law. As such, it may be that any sensible immigration reform that would acknowledge economic and legal reality will never pass. Instead, we are, no doubt, in for months and maybe years of further inflammatory debate that will mention unrealistic notions such as the deportation of millions and the building of a wall on U.S. borders.
Independence Day is as good as any other time to remind Americans that their country has been built upon immigration. It's also worthy to note that the bulk of men, women and children residing here today are not only not the direct descendants of those who fought in 1776, but most of their immigrant ancestors were never asked to comply with the arcane and restrictive immigration rules that now bedevil those who wish to come to these shores. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of these illegal immigrants are no different from the legals — or any of our own immigrant forebears. They've come here to work in a land of freedom and opportunity.
And their presence is merely a response to an economic need on their part for jobs and on ours for work. The laws of supply and demand cannot be abrogated by nativist resentment any more than it can be by socialism. Nor should the genuine and realistic fear of terrorism on the part of Islamists be used to confuse this debate. If anything, our government should be spending less time chasing after hardworking wage-earners and more on tracking terrorists, not the other way around.
This week, let's remember our immigrant roots, as well as the freedom that generations of newcomers to this nation have defended with their lives and enhanced with their labor. The America we all love — and which has become the most welcoming place for Jews in the history of the Diaspora — is one that welcomes strangers, as our tradition dictates, not one that seeks to keep them out.