Sunday, April 09, 2006

Coming to Amsterdam, Going to America

As an opening salvo, allow me to pass on my delayed "hurrahs" for the mighty Dutch Republic, which has created an informational video as required viewing for new immigrants, showcasing such features of the liberaltarian Netherlands' modern life as a topless sunbathing female and two men smooching in the park. Are they targeting Muslim immigrants? Well, unless they're expecting an influx of new citizens from Kentucky, then, yes. The Dutch have been here before, after all; when the Hugenots deluged the Netherlands after the French ran them out, one of their first orders of business was to pressure the state to crack down on Catholics. Having borne with the mob lynching of the De Witts and now the murder of Theo Van Gogh, this small but proud country which was unquestionably the first European state to incarnate the ideals of Enlightenment, and which, with its harboring of Descartes and Spinoza in addition to the great cultural legacy of its Rembrandt and Vermeer may fairly claim to be a modern Athens in terms of the quality and fecundity of the intellectual achievement it has bequeathed to all modernity, is entirely right to insist upon newcomers adapting to what is not only a tradition but a rational and immutable ideal of tolerance and freedom there. After all, Spinoza explored at considerable length the issue of making ourselves reasonably conformable to the needs of our community-- of living as rational beings in a rational community-- and immigrants of faith, Islamic or otherwise, must understand that along with a freedom of personal metaphysical exploration and expression comes a duty to mend the sails of faith in order to leave all other citizens (family very much included) to make their own explorations and to express their answers and questions openly. The individual cannot make of himself a state within the state by virtue of his faith, nor can he be allowed to encourage the obeisance of his family to such a rule. The Dutch government is both right and completely within its rights to take steps to assure its continued freedoms, and I applaud the new effort.
In terms of our own American immigration debate, I offer simply this: whatever the pragmatic or moral outcomes of one policy or another (and I incline to believe that the McCain-Kennedy bill offered a reasonable course of action to deal with the problems at hand) let us not obscure the issue by forgetting that sovereign states certainly are within their rights to police their borders. Whatever my doubts about the motives of some of the fence-lusting Congressmen, I cannot right off a border fence as merely a manifestation of Nativism. Nor can I quite swallow the contradictions embedded in claims that "no American wants these jobs." Are we entirely unselfconscious in this nation of the Work Ethic to say such a thing, and are no conservatives going to jump in and comment on why Americans should hold themselves aloof from such work? More to the point for a liberal, why aren't more voices angrily demanding to know why the conditions involved are so deplorable that no legal citizen would consider such work, or what outrages illegal immigrants may suffer in the course of this labor? And surely even ardent Free Traders should be willing to allow that, where certain conditions depress wages within a country, it is not simply kneejerk interventionism to ask whether such conditions shouldn't be altered.
And frankly, we should not be too indulgent in simplistic, sentimental claims about the work ethic of illegal immigrants doing menial labor. I don't doubt that in fact most of them are diligent and motivated, but such states of character do not necessarily contradict the possibility of violating the law in other ways as well, and with vast influxes of persons roaming about unknown to the law and outside the system, they must inevitably pull certain social problems in their wake. This is not to push for collective punishment-- in fact, it is perhaps the central argument for the McCain/Kennedy approach, and it is one that can, and should, hold the center. But as long as massive illegal immigration continues, there remains a necessary problem (and, by definition, failure) of law enforcement, and with that problem in view I can only maintain that strengthening the security of our Mexican border cannot be a bad thing.

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