I have never been an immigration hardliner. In fact, for years I was pretty close to an open borders advocate—not because I believed in lawlessness, but because I viewed those coming across our southern border to find work and support their families as an asset to our country—even when they came illegally.
Economically, they were filling essential jobs—particularly in the all-important agricultural sector—that most Americans didn’t want or couldn’t do. And living here, they necessarily became consumers as well as producers, whose need for goods and services would create more demand, and thus more jobs for others.
And I adamantly rejected the notion that they were undermining America’s moral and cultural values. Most Hispanic immigrants brought with them a strong religious faith, solid family values, and an admirable work ethic. They were not the ones driving attacks on faith, family, moral values, the sanctity of life; that was and is being done by America’s homegrown cultural elite.
I’ve had to adjust—but not abandon—my pro-immigration outlook over the years, as new realities added to the complexity of the issue. First, of course, was 9-11, and the ever-present threat of foreign terrorists easily entering our country to perpetrate destruction and mass murder.
Then there is the violent criminal element. I was working in the Nassau County District Attorney’s office in the early 2000s, when MS-13 and other gangs from Central America were just beginning to terrorize Long Island communities. It has grown far worse, and more dangerous, in the years since. Drug smuggling, always part of that criminal influx, has also grown worse and more dangerous, with illegal border crossers now serving as the conduit through which Mexican drug cartels facilitate China’s murderous fentanyl assault on American youth.
And of course, there are the sheer numbers now overwhelming our border communities and states, their finances, public services, and institutions. This is creating untold dangers and suffering, for Americans living in those communities, for border patrol agents, and for the migrants themselves, many of whom—including children—are being trafficked, to be exploited in the sex trade, or as drug smugglers, or otherwise sold into modern enslavement.
That’s if they survive the journey, without drowning trying to cross the Rio Grande or suffocating in locked metal trucks.
Add to this that the gangs and criminal element prey primarily on their own immigrant communities, where they can best camouflage themselves, and where the population—particularly those here illegally—is reluctant to go to the authorities. For this reason alone—protection of the migrant families and communities they are working to help—pro-immigration activists should be at the forefront in supporting strong border security.
I now firmly support strong border controls, as the just and compassionate first step toward developing an orderly immigration process that is mutually beneficial to our nation and to aspiring immigrants.
What of those border state governors who have been sending relatively small numbers of migrants to self-proclaimed “sanctuary” cities and communities far removed from points of entry?
I know this is in part politically motivated. BOTH parties have been politically exploiting the immigration issue for years.
But are these governors really at fault for insisting that the burdens of a national open borders policy be equally shared by the entire nation—not thrust solely onto the shoulders of border state inhabitants?
Shouldn’t those who have been virtue signaling from afar be invited to deliver on the “sanctuary” they have been promising? And called on their hypocrisy when they object—or, as with Martha’s Vineyard, when they quickly ship out the 50-100 immigrants who arrived in their wealthy enclave? Or, as with NYC Mayor Eric Adams, when he rails against Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott dispatching busloads of migrants to the Big Apple, while quietly accepting thousands sent by the mayor of El Paso, Texas—who just happens, like Adams, to be a Democrat?
Yet even as I support stronger border controls and a more equitable distribution of responsibility for arriving migrants, I cannot abide the vitriol being constantly hurled against those who come here simply seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
Yes, there is justified anger and hostility toward that violent criminal element that is wreaking terrible havoc across our country. But that no more characterizes every immigrant than does anti-Hispanic bigotry characterize every proponent of border security.
When my children were young I used to ask myself, if we lived in a poor country and my family were going hungry, and the only way I could find to feed them was to sneak across a border to another country to find work, would I do it?
And if not, what kind of a father would that make me?
Again, that does not mean we must accept an uncontrolled border, and all the danger, suffering and injustice it is causing, for Americans and for the migrants themselves.
But it should mean—even if we must limit their entry—that we respond with compassion and understanding, not hatred and vitriol, to those struggling, suffering peoples trying to do whatever they can to give their families a better life; today’s “tired, poor, huddled masses” immortalized in Emma Lazarus’ poem that graces the Statue of Liberty.
We may not be able to welcome them, certainly not all of them.
But we don’t have to hate them.