Our land, Their land: Liberty, Law, Free Markets, Free People

Op-Ed:  In the 1920s, when my Canadian-born Irish Catholic grandfather (Bruce Arthur McGuigan) came to Chicago to find work, scattered shop windows still bore signs instructing, “No Irish need apply.”  In discussions about immigration, I often ask fellow conservatives:  What if you were a Mexican with a wife and children, willing and able to work hard, living in Mexico today with its drug wars and social chaos and collapsing culture?  If you sought a better life for those you love, what would you do?  Would you stay Mexico, or find a way to get to America?

Even fans of Oklahoma’s House Bill 1804 say: “I’d go to America.”

Those Mexicans who come here are for the most part apt descendents of the English who fled religious wars four hundred years ago, Jews who fled pogroms in the Eighteenth Century, Irish who fled the Potato famine and English oppression, former slaves who came from the Old South to towns like Langston and Boley in the late 1860s, and Vietnamese who got on boats after the fall of Saigon and came eventually to MidTown Oklahoma City.

My home state, traditionally one of the most welcoming places in the world, sent a powerful message when our Legislature passed, and Gov. Brad Henry signed, House Bill 1804. Whether or not the interpretation was fair, the message many took from the debate was: “No Mexicans need apply.”

Mexicans I know work hard and work well. At night, the men go home to their wives. The wives care for the children, and often work outside the home as well. On Sundays, these folks go to Church, kids in tow.  Some of them got here the same way Irish Americans used to get here. They snuck in.

Immigration policy presents a classic tension between liberty and law. I wish that rather than H.B. 1804, Oklahomans had chosen the way of liberty.

This year at the Capitol, legislation that passed the House of Representatives (House Bill 3384) would have required public schools to determine the immigration status of the parents of students in state schools.

The proposed statute was contrary to a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring public schools to provide an education to all comers.  That case  slapped down a Texas law designed to withhold money from educating children whose parents were not “legally admitted” to the U. S.

House fiscal staff estimated the mandate would have cost the state about $100,000 a year.  When the bill got to Senate Appropriations Chairman Mike Johnson of Kingfisher, he treated it the same way he’s treating all other unfunded mandates in this year. He didn’t give it a hearing. Works for me.

Aside from moral concerns, political nuggets lead me to admonish all of us, including conservatives, to exercise greater wisdom on immigration policy.

Marco Rubio is running to become Florida’s next U.S. Senator.  He is favored to deprive incumbent Republican Governor Charlie Crist of the GOP nomination for that job in Washington.  Tom Coburn supports Mr. Rubio, who is leading Crist 57% to 28% in the latest Rasmussen poll.

Rubio is getting dusted up over a Republican party spending issue that also touches an ally of Crist’s, but seems like to survive. Things are so bad for Crist that he may run as an independent.

Rubio makes “closed border” noises, as do most conservative Republicans these days.  Still, all things being equal, if I were in Florida I’d set aside my moderation on immigration per se and support Mr. Rubio.

On April 7, Christopher Ruddy of Newsmax.com reported on a recent visit with the Republican governor of Puerto Rico. The first elected GOP chief executive there since 1969, Luis Fortuno won with by 11% in 2008.

The island went strongly to Republicans at the top and in the Legislature — in the same year Barack Obama easily won on the mainland and Democrats solidified control of Congress.  Puerto Ricans were angry about state spending and out-of-control public employee benefits.

To make the point perfectly clear, Rubio, Fortuno and their supporters are pretty good evidence that Democrats cannot take Hispanic support for granted – and that Republicans are foolish to ignore the growing clout and the healthy leavening influence that comes with affirmation and inclusion of immigrants and their children.

If none of the above focuses the mind, how about this: By 2060, 30% of all Americans will be Hispanics (or Latinos, as some prefer). Many of those folks will have been born in Mexico or be the children of Mexicans.

Where does the foregoing lead?

Wall Street Journal editorial writer Jason Riley argues against those who, in the name of conservatism, advocate for an even more restrictive immigration system. Speaking at the University of Oklahoma’s Immigration in the Heartland Conference, he maintained, “The case for open borders is pretty simple.  It’s not an argument for erasing the border, for ending U.S. sovereignty or creating one North American government or any other such nonsense.  Rather, it’s an argument for letting the free market, the law of supply and demand, dictate the level of immigration.”

Scott Carter of The Journal Record, an Oklahoma City business newspaper, reported Riley’s belief that many recent decisions in the immigration arena have been arbitrary and similar to “exercises in Soviet-style central planning.” Riley observed, “We have thriving markets in document fraud and human smuggling. We have dead bodies in the Arizona desert and, of course, we have 11-, 12-million plus illegal immigrants in the country.”

Riley argues for a guest worker program, saying it would “reduce illegal immigration.” He advocates for free people and free markets. Riley said America needs a “free and flexible labor market. No self-respecting free-market conservative would ever dream of supporting laws that interrupt the free movement of goods and services across the borders. But when it comes to the laws that hamper the free movement of the worker who produces those goods and services, too many conservatives abandon their free-market principles.”

My grandfather ultimately settled in Michigan’s upper peninsula. He worked a lifetime at a paper mill, joined the union local, and raised a large family. In his latter years, he was the quintessential Ronald Reagan Democrat. To Bruce Arthur McGuigan, Reagan was the joyful face of the modern Republican Party.

In Florida, the sunny face of the Republicans is a man who embraces America’s immigrant heritage (and is an example of it), defends market principles, and has drawn both disenchanted conservatives and a far share of moderates to his campaign. In Puerto Rico, the party’s face belongs to a disciplined executive pursuing pro-market conservative policies.

Who is the face of the Oklahoma Republican party, at least when the issue is immigration? Hint: It is not a sunny face.

I kind of like the Mexicans, and the Cubans. Several years ago, when I worked with former Commissioner of Labor Brenda Reneau, we stopped in at a newspaper in western Oklahoma (hint: it’s west of El Reno).

On the verge of holding hearings on illegal immigration, Reneau sought the editor’s input. After some fairly stereotypical anti-immigrant rhetoric, he concluded: “Hell, the Mexicans are good people. If it wasn’t for them, we’d be Class 2A (in high school sports).”

I wish Oklahoma would embrace those who even if they might have skirted the edges to get here, have gone on to work hard, obey the laws and try to find a place for themselves and their families.

They remind me of another bunch who crossed the line before they were supposed to do so. They almost never had the piece of paper they were supposed to have that authorized them to come to what many of them considered the promised land, Oklahoma.

I guess you could say they cheated, those Sooners, in 1889, and 1893, and maybe a few other times. But in this land, we found a way to forgive them, and not to hold their sins against their children.

Yeah, I’m an Oklahoma State University graduate, but here it comes. Let the Sunshine in. Boomer Sooner.


About the author: An independent writer based in Oklahoma City, Pat McGuigan is editor of CapitolBeatOK (www.capitolbeatok.com), senior editor of The City Sentinel and a contributing editor for Tulsa Today (www.tulsatoday.com). This essay first appeared in the El Reno Tribune (Sunday, April 25, 2010).