President Obama is soon expected to issue an executive order that would make it possible for some illegal immigrants, many of whom are the parents of children who are American citizens, to live and work in this country without the threat of deportation, in effect granting amnesty to up to 5 million people.
Beyond concerns over the constitutionality of a president deciding which laws to uphold and which to ignore in violation of his oath to “faithfully execute” laws passed by Congress is the effect these unauthorized immigrants, and those who follow, will have on what we know as America.
The debate about immigration is not a new one; it extends to the beginning of the country. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton exchanged views on the subject. William Chrystal, a scholar and interpreter of Hamilton and John Adams, has written about it in an article, “Alexander Hamilton and Immigration.”
In his first message to Congress, notes Mr. Chrystal, Jefferson argued for massive immigration to further populate the young nation. Hamilton took a different view, proposing that immigrants needed time to be assimilated and sever ties with their native countries and previous interests.
Here’s Hamilton, writing under the pseudonym “Lucius Crassus”: “The safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits; on the exemption of citizens from foreign bias, and prejudice; and on that love of country, which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education and family.”
Hamilton used Jefferson’s words against him from his book “Notes on Virginia.” Jefferson, he said, admitted that foreigners generally bring with them “attachments to the persons they have left behind; to the country of their nativity, and to its particular customs and manners. They will also entertain opinions on government congenial with those under which they have lived how extremely unlikely is it that they will bring with them that temperate love of liberty, so essential to real republicanism?”
The wisdom of our Founders could instruct the 44th president and the nation about so many things, if he and we paid attention.
Hamilton continued: “The United States have already felt the evils of incorporating a large number of foreigners into their national mass; by promoting in different classes different predilections in favor of particular foreign nations, and antipathies against others, it has served very much to divide the community. It has been often likely to compromise the interests of our own country in favor of another.”
Isn’t that what is taking place in our time — the pitting of races, classes, gender and income groups against each other? Not all of this is because of illegal immigration, but it is likely a contributing factor, as is politics. The conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants more cheap labor; the left wants more Democratic voters. Who is putting the country ahead of self-interest?
Mr. Chrystal notes that Hamilton wasn’t opposed to immigration, only that America’s interests be primary: “There is a wide difference between closing the door altogether and throwing it entirely open; between a postponement [he recommended 14 years] and an immediate admission to all rights of citizenship. Some reasonable term ought to be allowed to enable aliens to get rid of foreign and acquire American attachments; to learn the principles and imbibe the spirit of our government; and to admit of a probability at least, of their feeling a real interest in our affairs.”
Hamilton compared the indiscriminate admission of foreigners to the admission of “the Grecian horse into the citadel of our liberty and sovereignty.”
I asked constitutional attorney John Whitehead to comment on Mr. Obama’s anticipated executive order. He writes: “Executive orders essentially make the president a law unto himself, much like monarchs of old. The fault lies with a weak Congress and an acquiescing judiciary. [Executive orders] are abhorrent to constitutional government and will lead to tyranny.”
The one promise Mr. Obama is keeping is to “fundamentally [transform] the United States of America.” Amnesty will transform it in ways Hamilton foresaw as weakening the nation both he and Jefferson loved and for which they and the other Founders sacrificed so much.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” (Zondervan, 2014).