Saturday, November 8, 2008

Immigration Dilemma

The Statue of Liberty stands over New York City's harbor, the biggest and busiest port in the world, and she proclaims,

Send me your tired and your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

And millions of downtrodden refugees from around the world have poured through that golden door, leaving the worlds they knew--their homes, their friends--behind them, seeking a chance to build a better life for themselves and for their children. And in doing so--in bravely pursuing their own dreams--they have helped build the strongest, freest nation the world has ever known.

They are part of who we are, an important part. Their struggles and successes are part of the "American Dream." They have contributed to our strength, our diversity, our image--of how we see ourselves, and of how we are seen around the world.

One principle that must be held high in any debate about the immigration problem is that immigrants have formed the backbone and flesh, the hopes and ideals of our nation; they define our past and our future. To turn them away in high-handed arrogance because we are rich and they are poor is to turn our backs on our own heritage, and to abort the promise of our own better nature.

But the world, these days, is full of troubles--of poverty and oppression, of hunger and disease, and, yes, of bigotry and genocide. Tens of millions of downtrodden people around the globe would seek our sanctuary if they could. On the one hand we want to share our American wealth and freedoms as we always have, and on the other, we are not so strong and endless in resources that we can afford to dilute our bounty endlessly.

That is the dilemma--the immigration conundrum. We want to help--to open our arms and our hearts to those who need sanctuary. It is "who we are"--what we, as a land and a people, have always been; and what we want to continue to be in order to build the best possible future for ourselves and for our children. But the ills of the world threaten to overwhelm us. We are not so vast and so strong that we can help everyone.

So we must secure our borders. Our sovereignty and safety depend on it. We must have strong immigration fences at airports and ports and geographic boundaries. But we must have a generous heart as well--a willingness, nigh enthusiasm, to share our bounty with those who seek to join us.

This, the immigration dilemma, is one of the most difficult challenges, the most difficult puzzles, the most difficult knots to untangle, that the next president and his administration will face. This, along with
(2) the science, technology, pollution, ecology, energy dilemma, and
(3) the financial--and broader economic--dilemma, and
(4) the foreign policy, world-forces and national-image problem,
will present the next president and his administration with a very full plate.