Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Obama on Immigration

The President at a White House ceremony for new citizens yesterday:
Unless you are one of the first Americans, unless you are a Native American, you came from someplace else. That’s why we’ve always defined ourselves as a nation of immigrants. And we’ve always been better off for it. The promise we see in those who come from all over the world is one of our greatest strengths. It’s kept our workforce young. It keeps our businesses on the cutting edge. It’s helped to build the greatest economic engine that the world has ever known. And you think about the drive and the determination that it took for each of these 28 men and women to reach this moment. Imagine how far they’ll go from here, the kind of difference that they’ll be making on behalf of this country.

Immigration makes us a stronger. It keeps us vibrant. It keeps us hungry. It keeps us prosperous. It is part of what makes this such a dynamic country. And if we want to keep attracting the best and the brightest that the world has to offer, then we need to do a better job of welcoming them. We’ve known for years that our immigration system is broken, that we’re not doing enough to harness the talent and ingenuity of all those who want to work hard and find a place here in America. And after avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and for all. The time has come for a comprehensive, sensible immigration reform.
I'm all for immigration reform myself, but whether you think immigration makes us better off depends on what you want. It certainly makes our economy more vibrant; it makes our culture more interesting; it makes our food better; it improves our future fiscal picture. But economic dynamism always has losers as well as winners, and some of the losers in an immigrant-friendly economy will be native born poor people. More to the point, if you want things to stay the way they are, you should oppose immigration, because it leads to change. It makes our population grow, which means more farms built over with suburbs, more traffic, more highways, more everything. I don't hang around with conservative nativists, but I do know anti-immigrant fanatics -- they are environmentalists in Save the Bay and similar groups.

If your idea of a nation, or a community, is one in which everyone has a lot in common, you should oppose immigration. The rapid movement of millions of people around the world is one of the main solvents that is dissolving traditional communities everywhere. Communities in which people grow up as their forefathers and foremothers did, thinking as they thought, believing as they believed, living as they lived, are disappearing under the onslaught of modernity. In the modern world we have to craft our own identities, choose our own beliefs and values, find our own friends and mates; we are swept by the winds of fashion, fad, and fraud, as susceptible to crazy political ideas as to crazy shoe styles. The old way is going, and it had much to recommend it. After all, it is how we survived for a million years, and the history of the world in the 250 years or so since we began casting it aside ought to warn us of the dangers.

I think at base I support immigration because I believe in freedom and hate xenophobia. Although I understand the attraction of life in a homogenous community, steeped in tradition, I could not stand the restrictions myself. I hate to be told what to do, and will not abide being told what to think. I also recoil at any suggestion that one group of people is inherently better than another -- not because I am a relativist, but because the things I believe in are abstractions that no group practices perfectly, and on which nobody has any claim of ownership. No culture is the best at everything.

Since preserving some traditional culture seems a fanciful notion in America, and the world's growing population has to live somewhere, I say, let freedom ring.

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