Texas Senate Bill 4, recently adopted by the Texas Legislature, and related federal initiatives designed to penalize so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions who give cover to illegal immigrants, have produced a firestorm of reaction. Some of it is understandable. Most credibly, local law enforcement needs communication links in the illegal population that are undermined by the threat of deportation. I get that. But beyond that appeal, although I have compassion, I lose sympathy with those who simply believe that we should be an open border and I certainly am not persuaded by the corporate interests who speak in terms of the damage they feel the new anti-sanctuary laws will inflict on the economy, either by boycott or by disruption of labor markets.
And I know that there are many who disagree, particularly my friends in the business community on the latter point on the economic impact. But we must retain the sovereignty of our people to decide who gets to enter our country. Our founding fathers didn’t visualize the immigration process as a means to boost the labor supply or voting rolls. To maintain the integrity and sovereignty of the nation-state and the rule of law, immigration policy must be first about citizenship, not about new voters, new guest workers, and certainly not about a priority for family reunification.
As I have written before, this issue presents a convergence of often conflicting American passions–our compassion for the underdog, our heritage as an immigrant nation, our free market idealism, and our commitment to the rule of law. I would like to believe that we will resolve it with due respect to all of these instincts, but I know that some parts of all of them might suffer.
The current confrontation across the country, highlighted in Texas by the SB 4 reaction, serves to emphasize the enormous difficulty in unwinding the tangled legacy of the 1986 amnesty under Ronald Reagan. This well-intentioned but failed solution to what was then a relatively modest problem has now mushroomed into an illegal immigrant population of eleven to fifteen million or more people who are entangled in our workforce, our education system, the criminal justice system, and our social services system, not to mention the family and institutional connections that advocate for their interests. This is a mess and the resolution of this entanglement will be very painful on many levels, but it must be done in a way that is true to our sovereignty and the rule of law.