President Obama's speech announcing executive action to grant temporary relief from deportation to about half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the USA contained some moving and highly accurate words. Much of what he said applies to Australia too. After all, there is a sense in which we are "a nation of immigrants" and "We were strangers once, too".
The notion that we were all strangers once suggests its opposite – our common humanity. 'They' are 'us'. 'We' are 'they'.
Obama gave examples of heartbreak and anxiety experienced by decent hardworking parents who faced deportation and separation from their US-born children simply because "they didn't have the right papers". He suggested it was unfair (my word) when "circumstances of birth" determined who could and couldn't be an American. These 'illegals' are here, working in menial jobs and paying their way through university, and he wants them given a legal status through a system of registration with the government and payment of a $500 fee, which will protect them from deportation for up to three years, as well as grant them work permits.
There are precedents for such protection under Reagan and Bush. It's better than the status quo. Were I one of the 4.9 million 'illegals' eligible for the protection, then I would breathe a sigh of relief in the here and now.
But, there's also something inconsistent in Obama's position when he stresses that the temporary legal status he is offering does not "create a path" to citizenship or permanent residence or access to federal health care. Why not? – given that we are all strangers sharing a common humanity and that "these people" helped create America and keep America going.
And why the temporary nature of the protection from deportation? Why the prospect of renewing the "anxiety and heartbreak" in a few years time?
And why – if we were all strangers once – does the decree only apply to about 5 million of America's 11 million undocumented immigrants? Why should it matter whether they have been 'illegal' for more or less than five years?
A practicable policy, based on the principles argued by Obama, would open the way for citizenship for all 11 million of the undocumented immigrants. And it would be an executive order, which is binding, not an executive action, which isn't.
To make the fine words and sentiments even shallower, Obama stressed that he wants more resources allocated for border control to stop illegals coming into the US and he wants to "speed the return of those who do cross over". Why do this if you believe such people help build America and that "Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger"?
Open the borders – share the chaos!
The elephant-in-the-room in all current discussions of immigration is the question of 'open borders'. The undoubted benefits of globalisation are often lauded when it comes to trade, communications, cultural exchange and advances in air travel, yet many governments are imposing greater restrictions on who may gain permanent admission into their country.
On the other hand, in our lifetime, many borders have come down. The Berlin Wall is an example that tends to be taken for granted. Chaos ensued, with scores of thousands of east Germans flooding into west Germany. But the chaos was there anyway, and was now simply being shared in the interests of all.
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