Jonah Goldberg notes this front-page Washington Post story about the history of American immigration¯essentially claiming that debates about immigration in the United States are unchanged from generation to generation, and that the current crop of immigrants is no different from any other crop the nation has had to absorb.

That’s a curious claim. Both sides in the recent battles over immigration have seemed irresponsible¯the Right in forcing the issue into public view, the Left in trying to capitalize on it to advance a radical agenda. The next issue of First Things , due out in a few weeks, contains an essay from Harvard’s Mary Ann Glendon that notes the positive effects of immigration and argues for a welcoming stance from the government. And as she makes her argument, Glendon seems quite convincing.

Still, the attempt by the Washington Post and others to match the current debate to others in the nation’s history misses certain key differences. The point of such a perspective is, of course, to tie the current opponents of immigration to disreputable opponents from the past¯like the America-Firsters, and the Klu-Klux-Klan nativists, and the Know-Nothing anti-Catholics.

But, as Goldberg observes, the current wave of Mexican immigration is different. We didn’t share a long, open border with the countries from which large numbers of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century immigrants came. Then, too, we didn’t have in place anything like the current welfare system, by which those immigrants can make a claim on the public purse. More, no Irish, German, or Italian extremists tried to claim¯as a good number of radicals do today¯that the land in which the immigrants are settling was stolen land and rightfully belongs to the mother country.

To this, one might add what seems the most important fact: Overwhelmingly, the previous immigrants were in the country legally. It’s bad enough that the illegal immigrant is not being instructed in the respect for law that citizenship in America demands. The act of illegal immigration also means the new immigrant begins in an adversarial relation to the adopted country. What good result can possible come from that?

If the choice is between Mary Ann Glendon’s view and that of the modern opponents of immigration, I’ll side with Glendon. But immigration reform is still required¯simply to make the process of entering this country rational and serious, so that all immigrants begin with a legal relation to the nation they have come to join.


In addition to which :

The philosophical influence of Alasdair MacIntyre is almost beyond estimation. Now he surprises with a biography of Edith Stein, the Jewish philosopher-convert who became a Carmelite nun and perished in the Holocaust. Philosopher Thomas Hibbs says that MacIntyre’s new book may be his most important work, even more important than his much admired After Virtue . It’s all in the May issue of First Things . Isn’t it time for you to subscribe to First Things ?

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