Tuesday, March 28, 2006

An important distinction to make in the immigration debate

Patricia Zapor of Catholic News Service has done the immigration debate a great service with the story she wrote, "In immigration law, distinctions of 'legal,' 'illegal' fairly recent."

This is the opening line of her piece: "Here's a little-understood fact about immigration law: Until well into the 20th century, pretty much anyone who showed up at a port of entry or walked across a border got to stay in the United States." It wasn't until 1924, she explains, that the U.S. started requiring visas to be obtained before coming here. And that was only after a massive influx of Italians, Russians and Austro-Hungarians in the previous years -- all of whom entered the country legally since there were no requirements for documentation.

That means my ancestors and my wife's -- and those of the vast majority of Americans today -- made it here legally. But that's no great feat and no great act of virtue since there were no laws on the books for them to break.

So, while I respect most of what you write, I'm sorry Peggy Noonan, but your grandmother was here four years before there were laws requiring her to have a visa to leave Ireland to come to this country. That makes her first night on that Manhattan park bench not as much of a virtuous act as you made it out to be.

This little revelation makes me now wonder -- why are our laws as restrictive as they are? Is it because now that WASPs and their equivalents are settled in and have taken over a land that wasn't ours to begin with, we're simply wanting to keep something so good to ourselves? And are we also not just the slightest bit racist? Just a couple of questions to ask ourselves.

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