Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus"
"In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you." --Isaiah 54:14 NIV
The Great Freedom Refuge
These two quotes size up for me what America's immigration dilemma looks like in 2015. On one hand, Emma Lazarus' immortal verse found on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty captures America's identity as the great freedom refuge of the world. On the other, Isaiah's vision is clear that the high ideal of freedom is established in righteousness.
Based upon "The New Colossus" excerpt alone, it may sound reasonable for President Barack Obama to bypass Congress and grant residency to millions of illegal aliens. After all, we are (of all nations) a nation of immigrants. Add to this the practical reasons such as the need to expand our tax base in order to contribute to/save Social Security and other programs. What's more, even if we were to have a stringent immigration policy, is it even logistically possible to deport ten-to-thirty million people?
The Rule of Law v. The Hero On A White Horse
As compelling as these arguments may sound, I think they they miss the weightier matter when it comes to President Obama's recent executive order. We are a nation built upon the rule of law. This means something. It means that the U.S. Constitution is the final authority when it comes to the legislative process.
Please forgive the following thumbnail civics lesson. (I don't pretend to be an expert, but the Constitution is not as complicated as some would have you believe). The first three articles delineate the separation of powers in this order: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. Presumably, all three are equal, but if any receives the slightest deference over the others it's Congress (535 total members), because it represents the most people. Nevertheless, each branch maintains a separate function when it comes to the law: Congress makes them, the Supreme Court adjudicates them, and the President executes them. Although the President has the power to write executive orders, these actions are supposed to a) be limited to crisis situations and b) reference existing laws.
To put it succinctly, the President does not posses the legal authority to make new laws. The idea is that, in the long run, our country will be much better off with the balance of power intact than with short term fixes that inordinately empower the executive branch. Columnist John Stossel explained the classic American view of government this way: "Central authority is bad. The bias should be for freedom. And without a central authority, there are lots of little authorities, and we learn which ones to trust." In other words, the ideal of our democracy is to reject the idea of centering our government around a political savior on a white horse.
Ironically, it's President Obama himself who's been recorded several times as reminding immigration activists that he was "not a dictator" when it came to immigration reform. Yet, now that he's decided to unilaterally change the immigration laws, what are we supposed to think? Aren't we entitled to the same opinion regarding the boundaries of the Oval Office?
No doubt, the White House is counting on the constitutional debate being eclipsed by the President's apparently good intentions. "As long as his edicts are benevolent, what's the harm?" you might say. Try using the word benevolent in conjunction with the word tyrant, despot, or Der Führer --it doesn't work. In the final analysis, a benevolent dictator is only benevolent in his own mind; to everyone else he's just a dictator. This is why we need to vigilantly remind ourselves that "benevolent dictator" is one of the most dangerous oxymorons in the English language.
Collapse of the Immigrant's Refuge
Another glance at Isaiah's vision: the operative word in escaping tyranny is "righteousness." Sadly, as America continues to collapse into a culture of ungodliness and self-indulgence, we are losing our ability to hold our leaders accountable. Worse, it seems we're rapidly slipping to the point where we're willing to trade our inalienable rights for our creature comforts. A recent poll featured in TIME Magazine, conducted by Nick Gillespie (editor of Reason.com) engaged nearly 2,400 Millennials on a wide variety of topics. Disturbingly, a whopping seventy percent favored guaranteed health care, housing, and income. As unbelievable as this sounds, Millennials might be the first generation of Americans primed to accept a totalitarian solution to our nation's challenges.
Our immigration controversy boils down to this amazing paradox: throwing out the Constitution in order to receive illegal immigrants inadvertently destroys the very refuge they seek. How long do you think the "huddled masses" will be able to breathe free in a Constitution-free America? Don't be fooled by our current prosperity: what we have today is a reflection of an infrastructure assembled during two-plus centuries of unprecedented freedom. America without our constitutionally guaranteed rights will eventually look like the corrupt, disheveled, impoverished, civil-war torn banana republics that most of the refugees are running from. As things move forward, here's the looming reality yet to be fully grasped: Lady Liberty without her lamp – and that lamp is the United States Constitution -- is just another lady.