Very few political topics seem to generate as much ire as the debate over immigration. At one end of the spectrum are those who favor open borders – a global world where any individual can move from one nation to another for any reason at any time. At the other end of the spectrum are those who would all but close our borders and ban immigration from most if not all but a scarce handful of countries and then only admit a very small handful of individuals.
For those who believe in a borderless world, I can offer only my disagreement based on the concept of self-determination. When countries such as Latvia and Lithuania split off from the former Soviet Union, it was heralded by those of a more liberal persuasion than I as a great example of self-determination. I agree strongly with that sentiment. People in a geographic region had the innate right to decide on their own self-government. And of course, our own American Revolution still stands as a poster child of the concept of self-determination, when the former British colonies broke away to form our own nation. A borderless world is really a nation-less world in which a nation can be taken over without the firing of a single shot, simply by flooding it from other regions of the globe, and destroying the very principal of self-determination.
For those who oppose immigration in whole, I would point out that the United States would not be the prosperous world power that we are were it not for waves of immigrants, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Unfortunately, the debate over immigration has somehow lost sight of the fundamental reason for borders – that a collection of people, banding together as a self-governing nation in an act of self-determination, has a right and a duty to defend itself not only from bloody shooting wars of aggression, but also from being undermined or placed in danger from others who would enter to the detriment of that nation. Said differently, we are stronger as a nation by virtue of immigration, but not every candidate for immigration contributes to making us stronger.
The flaw that is missed in our immigration policy stems from a fundamental problem with how a given candidate for immigration to the United States is evaluated. Today, the burden of proof is effectively assumed by the United States to prove an individual would be a detriment to our country or else they are admitted. Since we cannot be all-knowing of people’s motives, backgrounds, and intentions, this is a dangerous policy. It should be the obligation of any individual wishing to immigrate to the United States to be able to provide sufficient evidence that they would not be of detriment to our country. Mere statements are not enough. Lack of a known criminal background is not enough if there is no positive record whatsoever. If an individual effectively has no documented past, then they have no evidence to demonstrate they would be safe to admit. This is the flaw in our handling of refugees. Individuals we know nothing about are, after delays, admitted for lack of proof they are a danger even though we know essentially nothing about them. But placing the burden of proof on US immigration officials, we slow down the process for everyone, delaying the entrance of those we would admit while leaving ourselves exposed to admitting those we should not.
Taking this reasoning further to the question of individuals already in the United States illegally, a balanced approach would attempt to achieve the same standard – can an individual affirmatively demonstrate based on a preponderance of the evidence that he or she will not be a detriment to the United States if they remain? For example, for those who can actually prove they were brought to the United States many years ago as children, the subset of so-called “Dreamers” for whom US records can show a long enough record of their presence in the country, have they stayed out of trouble and off of government assistance when they reached adulthood? Are they supporting themselves or have they served our country in the military in support of this great nation? If so, then I believe they meet the intent of a reasonable immigration policy that makes our nation stronger rather than weaker. For those who arrived as adults or at least cannot prove they arrived as children, if they have committed no other offenses and are currently self-supporting, and show a long enough documented history here or abroad to demonstrate they have been upstanding citizens wherever they have lived, they too likely meet a reasonable standard for admittance, though some consequence or penalty should likely be assessed if they intentionally came to the US illegally as adults. But for those who are here illegally who cannot demonstrate affirmatively that they would not be a detriment to the nation economically or criminally, they should not be allowed to stay or receive government support. They need not be forcibly deported. They simply must be denied benefits and employers including individual employees acting on behalf of employers should be severely punishable for hiring individuals who are not eligible to be legally employed in the United States. This is an area where piercing the corporate veil in addition to stiff corporate penalties would have a huge impact. If the employers involved were themselves here illegally, that should also be grounds for immediate deportation. Indeed, the last measure is critical because it avoids a mob-style cartel of illegal employers sustaining the presence of others who are present illegally who are not able to demonstrate affirmatively that they meet the above eligibility tests.
The principle of self-determination demands that borders have meaning. We should welcome those who can affirmatively demonstrate they would not be a drain on our country. But the burden of proof must lie with the applicant. When it comes to borders, it should not be admissible until proven ineligible, it should be inadmissible until proven eligible.