More than a quarter-century ago, this columnist (then a fresh-faced second lieutenant of infantry) was assigned to a basic training company. Among the drill sergeants of E Company were several who were not citizens of our republic.
One in particular, who provided steady guidance to that young officer, displayed an unabashed patriotism that was largely out of favor at the time. Each morning and evening as the flag was hoisted and lowered, he made a point to stand outside and salute the colors.
This was a small thing beside the grandly patriotic service he provided, but over the years that gesture remains with me. My experiences make it a struggle to write dispassionately about immigration policy.
Our immigration policy is broken. We could absorb many of the best-educated workers in the world, but we encumber them in decades of costly red tape or send them to boost the economies of Canada, Britain and Germany.
We are a land of opportunity, and so attract many low-skilled yet highly motivated workers from around the world. But instead of permitting them to work here lawfully, we offer them a Hobson’s choice of prosperous liberty while breaking our immigration laws, or obeying them in destitution.
That is not the behavior of a nation with aspirations of enduring greatness.
There is also a moral and philosophical dimension to the immigration debate. The men and women who seek to be Americans should be sought out. They are an example to those of us whose appreciation for this republic has grown cynical and stale.
I have a name for the example of hard work and sacrifice that I see in those men and women who leave family and home to come to my country to build a better life—conservative values—and it is what Mrs. Hicks and I try to teach our children.
In the upcoming debate, we have to acknowledge that easing immigration will affect our communities unevenly. Many struggle with illegal immigration and deserve much more secure borders. Some very-low-skilled American workers will see greater job competition; so, too, will college professors.
In the end, we must let more people into our country, some temporarily, many permanently. And we must dramatically ease the process. We must forgive those otherwise law-abiding men and women already here, even if it sounds too much like amnesty. We must look beyond the short-term political calculus of who will get more new voters in 2016. We must do the right thing and better welcome immigrants, and we need to do it now.•
Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.