Des Moines Register 12-26-06 Let conscience guide debate on immigration

Des Moines Register
Let conscience guide debate on immigration
The late President Ronald Reagan stood for individualism and liberty, core
precepts of republicanism. His shining moment, and one that captured my
conscience, occurred in an address at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, during
which he challenged then General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev with these
words: "[I]f you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and
Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization ... tear down this wall!"
The wall will fall, President Reagan predicted, because "it cannot withstand faith;
it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom."
Many of us now are obsessed with security to the point of identity cards, whose
symbolism since World War II is blood-based and repugnant. Moreover, the
United States has approved plans to erect a 700-mile border fence to crack down
on illegal immigration.
We experienced the ramifications of this crackdown firsthand in the arrests
earlier this month of 1,282 workers at Swift-owned packing plants in Iowa and
other states.
To have a raid of this magnitude not only demonstrates failed policy but also
underscores how polarized we have become — so much so that we are in
danger of unraveling the fundamental fabric of democracy.
Reagan was an effective president because he communicated those
fundamentals. He made his share of mistakes, but he also understood the
human condition.
On the one hand, we realize that the world is dangerous and that we must do
everything in our power to ensure our security for the short time that we are here.
On the other hand, the conscience informs us: What is in me is in you.
Reagan's best leadership happened when he elevated conscience over
consciousness, associating it with the ideals of republicanism, fast slipping away
from us.
When it comes to immigration, many of us are torn between the laws of
consciousness and ethics of conscience. In debating the plight of those Swift
workers and their children, the better angels of our nature should guide us.
It is true that the United States is a nation of laws. However, Abraham Lincoln,
another great president, instilled in us the notion that conscientious laws not only
were of, by and for the people, but also ensured equality and liberty for all.
That is why an inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty states, "Give me
your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
We believe in our liberties to such extent that we enjoy jus soli (or "right of
territory") that asserts: If you are born on our land, you become one of us.
Children born here of parents immigrating illegally have citizenship status.
Several such children have been separated from parents because of immigration
crackdowns, caught between two Americas — one that historically prized liberty
for all and another more recent one that prizes security above all.
Before you criticize jus soli, as many do, keep in mind that the opposite concept,
jus sanguinis ("right of blood") is associated with Nazi Germany, against which
many of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents fought.
What would Reagan say about the Swift raid? What would he say about an
American wall?
True, he might proclaim that a dangerous world demands that we safeguard
security at all costs, even at the expense of individualism and liberty. I believe,
however, that President Reagan would call upon our collective conscience, as he
did at the Berlin Wall, where he praised leaders of both U.S. political parties and
noted that barriers to freedom always fail, but only after they have caused great
suffering and division.
Immigration is a complex issue. Many of the problems America faces are of such
magnitude that we cannot resolve them without working together across cultures
as well as party lines. More than ever, we need conscientious laws that promote
unity rather than polarize politically.
That is my wish for the new year.
MICHAEL BUGEJA, journalist and director of the Greenlee School of
Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, is author of
"Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age."