Immigrants

The recent congressional debate over US immigration policies and border security has our country, and not the politicians, in an uproar. But before we get into just how our borders should be secured (which they should) and immigration policies be set, one important ethical or moral principle needs to be stated. It is that those who take in upon themselves to invade or occupy another people's land — certainly a questionable practice to begin with— have an obligation to treat its original inhabitants fairly and justly.

While this principle may explain why we are presently stuck in Iraq , it also should have a bearing on US immigration and border polices, particularly in our southwest. The vast majority of immigrants coming in to the USA (whether legally or illegally) from that direction are, whether wholly or in part, of native American ancestry. This means that their ancestors were here on this continent at least some twenty-to thirty thousand years before our European forebearers came over here — or even before they knew this continent existed!  Nor did these first Americans have anything to do with setting up the artificial line on the map that divides the USA from present-day Mexico .   

The fact that most of these descendants of these original Americans happen to speak Spanish rather than English raises yet another question.  Why is it that nine of our fifty states have Spanish names?  Have we forgotten that our first foreign war (the Mexican War of 1846-48) was openly imperialist in aim and was backed mostly by Southerners who wished to expand their slave-owning territories? While it was opposed by many in the North, it ended up with US wresting away from Spain the whole northern part of what was then Mexico, California, and the Oregon territory.  So when many of these new immigrants wryly joke about their move into the American southwest and the Pacific Coast as "la reconquista", they really have the historical record on their side.  It is not they, but we "Anglo" immigrants who, like the Spaniards, moved in by force of arms, that are the intruders.

But aside from our run-ins with Spain (we did it again in 1899 when we invaded Cuba, took Puerto Rico and the Philippines), we might also ask why it is that twenty-five other states bear either the names given to them by or named after their original inhabitants?  Leaving aside the three states whose names honor their earliest French-speaking settlers, this leaves only thirteen states that have English-origin names, and even one of these is called the "Land of the Indians" or "Indiana".   This should tell us something about whose country all this really was to begin with.

History will tell us something else as well.  Critics of any compromise in these matters keep raising the issue of obeying the law.  Yes, keeping laws is important and we should, if at all possible, not reward law-breaking. But again, have we forgotten that a major part of what is now the USA was first settled by "pioneers" who were in fact law-breakers?  At first the US Congress decreed that all the lands west of the Alleghenies were to be reserved for the native Americans and white settlements forbidden.  In 1815 President Madison authorized federal troops to evict the settlers. Of course, the law soon proved unrealistic and again and again "amnesty" was declared in favor of the law-breakers while smaller "reservations" were designed to push the original inhabitants even farther away from or restrict their movements in their own country.

All this suggests that while laws should be obeyed, they also need to be changed to reflect more than just political expediency. The fundamental reality is, at least if one is a believer, that God gave the earth to all people.  So while immigration should be made orderly, to try to stop it altogether is contrary to divine law, fundamental human rights and even to the facts of our own history. 

R W Kropf   5/29/06                                         

Immigrants (670 words)  06-05-29.html