Politics & Policy

Is Immigration to the U.S. an Entitlement?

U.S. Border Patrol agents detain illegal immigrants near Roma, Texas, in May. (Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)
If a sympathetic backstory justifies breaking the law with impunity, then we have no rule of law.

The real debate about immigration isn’t about the terms of Trump’s travel order. It’s an effort to treat entry to the U.S. as a right.

For the past six months, the debate about immigration has centered on the campaign to derail President Trump’s temporary travel ban. But now that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed it to go forward, at least in part, the discussion has started to shift. Critics are backing away from the contention that it’s biased to impose greater scrutiny on immigrants or refugees from countries where terrorism is rampant. The new arguments, stripped of their anti-Trump resistance rhetoric, are not so much about whether the administration is prejudiced against Muslims but whether people living in foreign countries have a right to come to the United States regardless of any other consideration.

The notion that entry to the United States is not a privilege granted by the government but an entitlement is the underlying premise of two New York Times articles published the day after the Supreme Court ruling. One focused on the plight of those refugees who will be kept out of the country pending the review of the ban. The other story, a New York Times Magazine feature, depicted the condition of illegal immigrants who are deprived of proper medical care because of their worries about being caught. While these are legitimate inquiries, the assumption of both pieces is that any effort to further vet refugees or to enforce existing immigration laws is inherently illegitimate.

Sympathy for displaced persons or for those who entered the country illegally should prevail over any other concern, the Times stories suggest. This is not a new idea. It has been the driving force behind the effort to grant the so-called DREAMers — those who were brought here illegally as children — rights of residency, if not citizenship. It’s also what motivates the push for amnesty for all illegals. Such sympathy is understandable — but if compassion is the only consideration, then the only logical conclusion is that anyone who wants to enter the United States should be allowed to do so with no questions asked.

With respect to refugees, the Times newspaper article sets out to explore who will be affected by the Supreme Court ruling, which said that only those refugees or travelers who have a “bona fide relationship” with an American person or entity could be exempted from the ban. The distinction seems reasonable because people with family or business ties here or who have been granted university admission in the country can be held accountable; those without such ties probably cannot. But those who simply wish the gates to be flung open to anyone claiming refugee status want the definition of “bona fide relationship” widened to include a “relationship to a nonprofit” agency such as those that facilitate the entry of refugees. So anyone who has filled out the forms submitted by organizations dedicated to facilitating refugee entry would be exempted from the travel ban. But the focus of these agencies is not so much to vet refugees or immigrants as it is to get as many people admitted to the United States as they can, which renders their claim to be a responsible party meaningless.

As far as the illegals and health care, the dilemma presented in the New York Times Magazine story is real. Those who come here illegally have a legitimate fear of the health-care system because any interaction with institutions that keep records will potentially expose them to unwanted scrutiny that could lead to their apprehension by the authorities. It’s also true that worries about being caught can literally make them and their children sick. Studies cited by the Times state that illegals use health-care services less frequently than other persons do. Children born to them are also more likely to have lower birth weights.

But while it’s not surprising to learn that living in the shadows can be bad for your health, the same can probably be said about any fugitives from the law.

The point here isn’t that we shouldn’t feel sympathy for people on the run. The same applies to those seeking a way into the United States via the refugee route. The question is what conclusions we should draw from their worries.

One needn’t be an immigration or asylum opponent to observe that the problems explored in these stories are rooted in an unwillingness to consider that entry to the United States is not a right. But that’s exactly what those blasting Trump seem to be advocating.

If we assure illegals that they won’t be held accountable for their status if they come into contact with the authorities — such as when seeking health care — then the laws they’ve broken are meaningless and may be flouted with impunity.

If you think that concerns about refugees’ country of origin should be rejected out of hand, then what you’re arguing is that their right to enter the United States outweighs the nation’s security concerns.

As for refugees, if you think that concerns about their country of origin should be rejected out of hand because it’s bigoted to point out the possibility of Islamist infiltration, then what you are arguing is that their right to enter the United States outweighs the nation’s security concerns.

Strip away the “resistance” rhetoric about Trump’s alleged bigotry and all you have left is a weak argument that treats immigration as an entitlement. When cities as well as churches and synagogues proclaim themselves to be “sanctuaries” where the law may not be enforced, they are broadcasting that no one may be denied entry. But no one, not an illegal in search of work or a refugee in search of asylum, has an inherent right to enter the United States.

Arguments for more liberal admission policies are as legitimate as those that call for more stringent vetting. But if a sympathetic backstory or subsequent health concerns are more important than following the rules for legal entry, then the result is the end of the rule of law. This is what’s being demanded by those who think that sad stories about refugees and illegals justify flouting immigration laws. People who hold these views are not advocating immigration reform but the end of law itself.


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