Immigration — America Can Do Better by Embracing Freedom of Choice

The mess at the Southern Border has been ongoing for numerous administrations and is spiraling out of control. Shifting patterns of immigration have brought 300,000 from countries not normally associated with immigration to the southern border since mid 2019.

We need a fair and enforceable immigration law that allows access to the U.S., protects migrants for exploitation and humanitarian crisis, and also protects the public from unsustainable social and financial burdens.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak with a number of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, as well as Central and South America. I am thrilled that they are here, and amazed and encouraged by their engagement in and enthusiasm for the American experiment.

A nation without a border is – precisely nothing. Without defined boundaries, to know where its laws apply, the concept of a political entity has no meaning. The concept of open borders and free migration is anathema to having a country.

The story of one of America’s early English immigrants is instructive as to the boundaries of reach of the law. Stephen Hopkins signed on as an indentured servant to be the clerk for the Reverend Richard Buck, who was headed to serve as minister in the beleaguered Jamestown Colony. Hopkins left behind his wife, Mary, two daughters, and a son as they boarded the ship, Sea Venture on June 2, 1609 as part of a rescue mission to Virginia.

The Sea Venture hit a hurricane en route to Virginia and was wrecked on the reefs of Bermuda on July 28th. This storm is believed to be the basis for Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest. The Sea Venture’s crew salvaged supplies and equipment and set about building two smaller ships in order to continue on to Virginia. Around Christmas, Hopkins began to espouse the belief that since the shipwrecked crew was outside of the boundaries controlled by England and not subject to any other authority, the men were not subject to the commands of Governor Gates, who was to assume command of the Jamestown Colony, upon his arrival. By January 24, 1610, Hopkins tried to convince two other crew members to support his contention. The other men told the Governor of Hopkins plot. Hopkins was tried for Mutiny and sentenced to death. Hopkins pleaded for his life, and the Ship’s Captain, Christopher Newport begged for Hopkins to be pardoned, and his plea was granted. Hopkins served out his seven-year indenture and returned to England, only to return to America on the Mayflower, but that is a story for another day. In any event, this was an interesting test of the reach of the law, even where there were no borders and no sovereign authority.

America is very far from the days when laws reached even to uninhabited and unclaimed territories. We must have control of our border, yet it would also be best to allow liberal immigration to America. Yet, at the same time, we should not create burdens on taxpayers to support immigrants.

We should take an approach based on freedom of choice that also respects the rights of our existing citizens. We could allow any person (after clearing a background check) to be sponsored by an American citizen that is willing to take responsibility for that immigrant. This could be accomplished by requiring the sponsoring U.S. citizen to post a bond for three years (perhaps $10,000 for a single person and $20,000 for a family). These funds could be used to provide assistance to the sponsored immigrant, in case they are unable to find a job, or have medical needs, etc. After three years, any unused funds would be returned to the sponsor. If the escrow account was drawn down to 10%, the sponsor would be required to post additional funds. If the sponsor did not replenish the funds, the sponsored migrant would have to find a substitute sponsor or return to their home country.

This system would allow anyone wishing to take responsibility, to invite people to come to America. It would prevent taxpayers from being burdened with the cost of supporting immigrants. It would incentivize sponsors to assist in integrating the new arrivals into productive roles in American society.

Aid groups and religious organizations could serve as matching services to connect potential immigrants to sponsors. Grass roots organizations could pool resources and know-how to get people settled into new lives. The voluntary organizations that so entranced de Tocqueville would surely spring into action.

America’s immigration policy has been a mess for decades. It is time for a change.

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