We propose to establish a new Ellis Island, on the Southern borders, to handle the new wave of immigrants approaching our country. We must have an effective and workable system for processing and identifying those immigrants who want to be Americans, while at the same time protecting all citizens both new and old from those who would want to either feed off of American generosity or do harm.
America is a nation of immigrants. While that is an oft-tossed trope, the fundamental truth behind it is that we must always be a nation of immigrants simply because the American ideal is not a genetic or ethnic identity – it is an ideological one. America was built to be a home for anybody who desired the unfettered ability to unlock their potential to be the best that they can be. For anyone who wants to reap the full rewards of their own work. For anyone who wants to live freely as their conscience dictates and respect the inherent humanity of their neighbor.
The problem with the current political debate about “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” is that it is neither Comprehensive nor Reform. Why should we the American people believe that Washington politicians, and especially this Administration, can fix a complex problem like immigration comprehensively? It is a travesty that our legal immigration system has been broken, dysfunctional and inefficient for decades – every politician will readily acknowledge that, and yet never actually propose a solution to actually fix the law. Comprehensive reform is now Washington-speak for “I don’t want to actually solve the problem… I’d rather use it as a campaign issue.”
This is offensive to the millions of immigrants who want to come to this country and be part of the American system and way of life. It is telling these people – most of whom are hard-working, honest people who want to build a better life for themselves and their families – that they are more important to politicians as a campaign talking point than as real people.
30 years have passed since the last time immigration laws were amended to address immigration qua immigrants (as opposed to terrorism, asylum, refugee status). As a historical point, Ellis Island closed almost 100 years ago. During the tenure of its operation, Ellis Island brought in more than 12% of its total population as new immigrants. And these immigrants mostly did not speak English, most were from “non-traditional” and then-minority ethnicities and cultures for the country at the time. They came in waves, stood in lines, waited in camps, but were made citizens through a process that embodied the best of the promise of American ideals – respect for the rule of law and respect for human dignity. Within a few short generations, those immigrants who were new and unfamiliar to the America of the early 20th century became intrinsically woven into the fabric of American society. We could not imagine an America today without those.
The new wave of immigration to the U.S. over the past 20 years and looking forward to the next decade will easily bring in another population boom of at least 10% increase over the current population. In order to effectively process this extra-ordinary number, the new Ellis Island will provide a number of tangible benefits:
- A physical facility for immigrants that would alleviate the spread of caravan camps and provide shelter for immigrants waiting for processing.
- The ability to inure new immigrants to the responsibilities of American life (ID, tax, SSN, etc.)
- An executive order or law that permits the operation of the facility to process immigrants in total up to 15% of the total current population of the country, that will serve to provide as the basis of a 21st Century Immigration Act.
- Significantly reduces the need for coyote networks, effectively shutting down one of the largest human trafficking operations in North America that targets a highly vulnerable community.
Contemporaneously with the opening of Ellis Island was the arrival and establishment of the Statue of Liberty to not only mark the site but also to expressly welcome immigrants to America. While Lady Liberty stood on the East Coast, looking towards the Atlantic in expectation of her new citizens, the “New Ellis Island” should be standing at the prime location of a Southern border point of entry to the U.S – ostensibly El Paso. We should commission a new statue that sits along the Rio Grande, looking southward with a welcoming image to those new future Americans. The Statue of Liberty made a significant promise to the world’s poor, tired, huddled masses yearning for freedom. The latter phrase is equally as important as the first part: Our new Statue must be welcoming to those masses who still yearn for freedom.