A federal judge has temporarily blocked President Obama’s executive order that overrode existing immigration law. The result is more acrimony and chaos.
It is a good time to remember that there are more than just two types of immigration — legal and illegal. There also exist liberal and illiberal approaches to immigration.
Take liberal immigration. It is governed by laws passed by Congress and signed and executed by the president. Nearly all Americans accept that no individual can pick and choose which federal statute he chooses to obey, depending on his own perceived self-interest.
Liberal immigration would be entirely legal, meritocratic and ethnically blind. Skills and education would matter more than proximity to the border or political clout.
The numbers of immigrants would be balanced by liberal considerations: the need for skilled newcomers to avoid dependency on American society, and concern that their arrival not harm the economic aspirations of poor working citizens.
Liberal immigration would aim at rapidly integrating and assimilating immigrants in accordance with further classical liberal principles. America is not a multicultural society where appearance is essential to our characters, but a uniquely multiracial nation bound by common values where race becomes secondary.
In contrast, illiberal immigration would be the opposite of the above.
A president by fiat would nullify existing laws and order federal agencies to ignore them. Or he would issue executive orders contrary to both his prior promises and to the Constitution.
Mr. Obama did not, as he alleges, override Congress because it failed to act on immigration. Instead he ignored it because Congress would not act in a particular fashion that he found ideologically akin to his own beliefs.
Illiberal immigration would also mean that new arrivals could ignore the cost, time and inconvenience of applying for visas. Instead, they would simply enter the U.S. illegally and not be transparent about their illegal status.
Illiberal immigration would turn policy away from ethnically blind considerations to focus on ethnic criteria.
It would assume that the enforcement of federal immigration law and the making of immigration policy should react to particular ethnic and political lobbying groups.
Illiberal immigration would not concern itself with the impact of arrivals on the host country, especially the costs incurred by the public or the effect on the wages and services of the poor and working classes.
Also, illiberal immigration would seek — both explicitly by political intent and implicitly by sheer numbers — to undermine easy assimilation, in hopes of creating bloc constituencies with group concerns rather than individual concerns.
Illiberal immigration would encourage romance for, not disappointment with, the country left behind. And it would result in demands on, rather than gratitude to, the newly adopted country.
The reason why immigration is now a mess is not because there are no liberal solutions, but because there are so many illiberal stumbling blocks.
Many Americans are willing to allow some sort of exemption to the immigrants residing here illegally. Such an exemption would offer a pathway to permanent legal residency to the majority of immigrants here illegally if some liberal criteria were first applied.
First, close the border to illegal immigration to prevent recurrence of these problems. Texas authorities report that 20,000 foreign nationals have crossed the state’s southern border with Mexico in just the last two months.
Ensure that those who have committed crimes in the United States, or who have no history of work but instead only a record of dependency on entitlements, return to their nations of origin.
Those who have just illegally arrived in cynical anticipation of amnesty should likewise return home to go through the process legally.
Make immigration a meritocratic system that does not take into consideration the particular country of origin or ethnic background of the would-be immigrant.
What is holding up legislative compromise and what drove President Obama’s executive order is illiberal opposition to what most Americans see as a liberal compromise.
The advocates of open borders apparently do not wish an end to easy entry without regard to the law.
They do not wish to deport foreign nationals who have broken U.S. laws, or who have no history of productive employment, or who have just arrived in anticipation of amnesty.
They do not wish to reform legal immigration to a completely meritocratic system that might not necessarily favor the current preponderance of arrivals from Latin America and Mexico — and thus might not enhance the political clout of ethnic operatives.
And they most certainly do not wish to end admission to the United States on the basis of cheap labor. To do that would increase the wages and bargaining power of working Americans.
The solution to the immigration mess is not to threaten militancy if a particular political agenda is jeopardized. It is not to slam a federal judge who demands adherence to the law. And it is certainly not to scapegoat a generous host for not agreeing to political demands of guests.
The answer instead is simply to act legally — and liberally.
• Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.