Thursday, April 06, 2006


The current argument in America regarding immigration comes down to one issue, in my opinion:

Your definition of “we”.

How do you define “we”? Obviously, each individual defines that particular word in his or her own way. But it seems to me that the way you define “we” is the primary factor in determining (or dictating) where you stand on this issue.

If you define “we” as meaning Americans, then obviously someone who considers himself a Mexican or a Japanese would not fall within your “we”.

If you define “we” as human beings, however, then nationality becomes a less important distinction.

One may argue that the primary concern is for the stability of the American society and/or economy. Such an argument requires the distinction between Americans and non-Americans. In fact, it depends upon it. It requires that one extend one’s definition of “we” to the border of our country and no further. Everyone beyond is a non-American and must be dealt with accordingly.

The more emphasis that is placed upon the distinction between American and non-American, the more defined the word “we” becomes. It grows increasingly difficult to view the human race in terms of “we” when distinctions of nationality are so prevalent and emotionally emphasized.

What is this insistence on the part of so many Americans to look upon non-Americans as “them”?

I imagine it is partially a relic of a previous era when nationality was necessary to defend and maintain borders in the face of combative monarchs and dictators. But is such an emphasis on national differences still necessary? Is it possible that the vestiges of disharmony between the leaders of modern countries are what necessitate such well defined and vigorously controlled boundaries?

We as individuals have made great strides in learning to see each other as brethren, regardless of which part of the planet we’re from. But I don’t think we have seen as much progress on the part of our leaders and entrenched political parties in Washington or in other countries. Our leaders still have a hard time getting along with each other. They play a high stakes game of tit-for-tat, smiling and shaking hands for the cameras from time to time.

We are told by our leaders that our borders are important and must be regulated. We are told that we have enemies that must be kept out. We are told that the people who come into our country are responsible for this or that. The people they are referring to have the primary distinction of being non-Americans. That is how they are being defined.

If we didn’t hear our leaders regularly touting the superiority of America and the immorality or inferiority of America’s enemies, perhaps we wouldn’t dwell so much on the distinction between Americans and non-Americans. This distinction is at the heart of the immigration issue.

Some Americans are grateful for the opportunities afforded them by this country, and they love the idea of sharing America with anyone and everyone who wants to partake. Such is the pure essence of freedom and brotherhood.

Others feel that the opportunities available in America are limited and therefore must be protected. They feel that opportunity is a scarce commodity that would be depleted if anyone and everyone could come and partake of it. And so those who hold this view vigorously defend a well controlled border and limitations on immigration.

One can see that the former – those who want to share America – have a different perception of “we” : in their case, “we” is ultimately defined as human beings. In the case of the latter, “we” most definitely means Americans only.

Perhaps some Americans fear that if everyone who wanted to could come to America and become an American, the definition of “American” would be watered down, diluted in some way.

Perhaps some Americans consider themselves to be better than residents of certain other countries and want to bar as many outsiders as possible. If that is the case, then the definition of “we” is of utmost importance to them. For they have the most to lose.

I am not endorsing any position on this issue. No one has asked me to, nor do I feel an urgent need to do so.

I am, however, paying increasing attention to what exactly it means to be an American, as well as what our leaders have to say regarding who deserves to be one.

Perhaps that is what the battle over immigration is really about.

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