The Sojourners in the Land

“‘So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the LORD Almighty.” – Malachi 3:5

By some accounts (such as here) Newt Gingrich’s up-and-coming campaign took a big risk on immigration policy by making allowances for otherwise-law-abiding illegal immigrants and a path toward legal status (whether it is actually citizenship is unclear from the text bytes).

It’s not a new topic and we’ve certainly covered it before. However, given the latest resurgence into the spotlight (and perhaps the recently-celebrated Thanksgiving holiday) now seemed like a good time to touch on the issue again.

I am squarely on the side of immigration reform and a reasonable path to citizenship and/or legal status. If this puts me outside the norms of “conservatism” then so be it. I personally think it does not, but conservatism means a lot of different things to different people.

The Foreigners among You …

Malachi 3:5 is not the only place in the Bible where the Lord lays out in clear direction about proper treatment of “sojourners” among us. (See Exodus 22:21, Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:10, Numbers 15:15, Deuteronomy 10:18, and the list goes on.) By and large  the tone of these references is not one that opposes preferential treatment. That the rights and responsibilities that apply to the citizenry are the same as those that apply to the aliens. The law of God applied to them (they could be punished under its dictums) and the protections of human rights under the law also applied to them.

The current status of illegal immigrants in America does not look like this. They exist largely outside the law. They work for cash, and they have little-to-no legal recourse if they are abused in the labor market (“defraud laborers of their wages” anyone?). That’s not to say that legal protections do not apply at all. Those committing violent crimes will not be let off the hook if the victim was here illegally. But in civil or employment matters, they really don’t have a means to press for justice and fair treatment.

The Threat of Democracy …

That is not to say that the anti-immigration conservatives have totally missed the boat. I think they have done a poor job of articulating their opposition to the current state of things, but they have legitimate concerns. Sure, there are those who simply want to keep America as “white” as possible – I don’t have any trouble dismissing these folks. But the threat of democracy is also very real.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of serving on the board of trustees of various charitable organizations. These offices are usually awarded based on popular vote of the members of the organization – democratically. On rare occasions one may find such organizations having a financial surplus (and I stress rare – these organizations exist to pour money out in the form of aid). This prompts me, from time to time, to ask “what stops a large body of outsiders from ‘joining’ the organization and appropriating the surplus for themselves?” The question is primarily esoteric. The surpluses are rare and organizations have membership application processes, waiting periods, and spending protocols in the bylaws. The scam would take years to pull off and probably a super-majority at that (to change the bylaws).

Still, I think the notion applies here, and gives some justification to the fears of the right-wingers. If 320 million Azerbaijanis immigrated to this country and declared by majority rule that all non-Azerbaijani property was forfeit to those of Azerbaijani ancestry … I’d be pissed. This is the threat of democracy though. It doesn’t take a full majority in the influx either. Changing the percentages by very small amounts can completely shift the dynamics of electoral politics and the outcomes for everybody’s wallet. In a winner-take-all, majority-rule democracy, changing the demographics can be frightening.

This problem is not strictly one of immigration though. I, and many conservatives like me, would be more than willing to accept higher volume of legal immigrants (perhaps not unlike Newt’s “proposal”) if there were safeguards against property seizure by majority rule. There used to be such protections, by the way – but the Constitution has mattered less and less as time wears on. On that note, let’s try a few quotes on the subject from America’s founding fathers.

“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” – Thomas Jefferson

“With respect to the words general welfare, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers (enumerated in the Constitution) connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.  I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”   James Madison (“Father of the Constitution”) (emphasis added)

I have long held that conservatives and proponents amnesty could band together and form a very powerful coalition. We’ll agree to open the boarders once we’ve outlawed all federal benevolence. You can come here to work, but you can’t come here to live on the dole. You can come here to obey the laws, and have full protection of the laws – but if you break the law during your naturalization period we will send you packing in a hurry.

… “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” …

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