The many Republicans (and a few Democrats) who wish to deny amnesty to illegal immigrants are facing a dicey moral contradiction. First of all, America is a nation of immigrants; most of us are the children or grand-children of people who came here—legally and illegally—seeking a better life. Is there a fundamental difference between our parents or grand-parents and the “illegal” Mexican that mows our lawns or cleans our offices? There is not.
The deniers of amnesty cannot answer this dilemma without torturing logic. Their main argument is the sanctity of the law. These illegal immigrants have broken our law simply by coming here, and granting amnesty or a “pathway to citizenship” is to reward law-breakers. This statement is true, but arbitrary, and morally irrelevant. We must remember that Jesus was a law-breaker; so was Gandhi. We must also remember that violating unjust laws is a deeply ingrained American tradition—think Boston Tea Party, Prohibition, the Civil Rights Movement etc.
The counter-argument to this will no doubt be that there is no moral equivalence between violating laws in the name of a righteous cause like the Civil Rights Movement and crossing a border to find work. This is true on the surface, but lacks perspective. From the perspective of the Mexican laborer, who is simply seeking honest work to provide a decent life for himself and his family, to deny him access to this because he crossed a border is unjust. These immigrants want the very same chance that our immigrant parents and grand-parents had. Are we justified in attempting to deny them this chance? It seems to me we have no moral ground to stand on here.
Shakespeare made the point nicely on the tongue of Brutus in Julius Caesar:
“But ‘tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.”
Have we sons and daughters of base and lowly immigrants the legitimate right to slam the door behind us? To kick away the ladder by which we got here?