Immigration, Rule of Law, and the Peril of Ideology

I know that, for a lot of people, because Crenshaw is a Republican and because this is Fox News, the views presented in this interview are wrong and bad. I know that, because my opinions don’t check partisan boxes in the ideologically prescribed manner, that I’m a problematic leftist. My views are heretical from a dogmatic point of view. For some, my nationalism comes as a surprise. They made assumptions based on the partisan ideological checklist. But I don’t work from a partisan ideological standpoint. I am partisan, of course, because I am pro-worker; but I work out my positions from evidence, logic, and principle. And that means that the judgments at which I arrive do not conform to dogma. I am not a fan of received opinion. It wouldn’t be dialectical.

So I have to express my frustration at seeing opinions that are so obvious and rational, as well pro-worker (even if that is not the intent⁠—since, in the end, what is pro-worker is determined by objective assessment), being disregarded while a narrative is advanced intended to make immigration laws the work of white supremacy, the enforcement of those laws akin to fascism, and plant the assumption that supporters and enforcers of law and order are motivated by racism. Congressman Dan Crenshaw is right: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her crowd don’t want any enforcement of immigration laws. Her supporters bristle when accused of wanting open borders, but that is what she wants. It would be, at least, the result if her desires became policy. And he is right, and I can find no polite way of putting it, that Ocasio-Cortez has left sane ground.

My view on all this is straightforward and I am not ashamed to say that, except for his position on private charity (albeit it would make for a good exercise in hypocrisy detection), it substantively aligns with Crenshaw’s. I believe in nation-states and the interstate system. I am not a globalist. I’m an advocate of national boundaries, national sovereignty, and the rule of law. On matters of law and government I am a liberal secularist, a proponent of civic nationalism and the democratic-republican form of self-governance. On matters of economics I am a socialist who makes judgments of policies based on assessments of working class interests using a method derived from historical materialism, the approach to critical political economy developed by the communist Karl Marx (who was himself a refugee). I make no apologies for being a Marxist and a socialist. Obviously Crenshaw would disagree with my views on political economy. But ultimately his argument is pro-worker because illegal immigration is harmful to working class communities as I have demonstrated in several entries on my blog.

I prioritize the interests of American workers in my analyses because, even though the proletariat has yet to capture the government machinery and establish a worker state, a democratic-republic is responsive to its citizens and this provides the grounds upon which workers can in principle organize. However bourgeois the United States and other western nations are, they are more free and democratic than illiberal and theocratic arrangements. Concerns for liberty and democracy converge in a rather simple rhetorical question: What is the point of having a sovereign country if the government that derives its consent from the governed not work to secure the interests of those governed? his is not an ideological position. Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, when asked what is wrong with the market principle that rationalizes a situation in which an English worker loses his job to a more highly qualified foreign worker, responded by pointing out that the benefit of the nation-state to the English worker is protection of his interests against such a thing and that this is a perfectly reasonable expectation. After all, he has himself, his family, and his community to preserve. What does it mean to be a citizen of Great Britain if your government sacrifices your livelihood for the sake of global capitalist interests?

This is what so many on the left fail to recognize about the politics of Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk: they advocate the most extreme form of capitalist globalization, the form most devastating to the working class, where capital and labor go wherever the capitalists direct them for profit maximization, and then, wielding the assumed values of diversity and multiculturalism, accuse those who object to the destruction of their livelihoods and disorganization of their communities of racism. Identity politics is anti-proletarian, yet I see many self-proclaimed Marxists embracing its tenets, a false consciousness testifying to the power of the corporatist subjectivity created by the neoliberal ordering of cultural, economic, political, and social life.

Tomorrow we will celebrate the symbolic moment that established in principle the purpose of the United States of America. I feel very patriotic about this day because I love my country. I love my country because it is founded on principles I embrace as a secular humanist. It is because I am committed to human rights that I am committed to the promise of America. Despite its deist rhetoric, the Declaration of Independence is a demand for secular and democratic-republican government. It recognizes that we have rights and that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Inherent in this call is the establishment of an independent nation-state under the rule of law that is responsive to the people for whom it is established. The promise of the Declaration was realized in (as Christopher Hitchens liked to put it) a godless constitution with a bill of rights that announced a system of rights appropriate to a secular nation. America stands as an example to the nations of the world to put these principles to work in their own countries. It illustrates how a devotion to ideals, evidenced by a long struggle for justice, can improve the human condition.

The Declaration of Independence

The United States has always been a nation to which people from around the world have wanted to come. Tens of millions have immigrated here over the decades, many of them becoming citizens. I support legal immigration to the United States. I know you have heard me say this before, but my wife followed the rules. She is one of many who followed the rules, some of whom, like my wife, are no longer immigrants but now US citizens. It was one of the happiest days of my life to watch Mona take her citizenship oath. I thrilled to see how excited she was to vote in her first election. There are tens of thousands of rule-following persons who currently wait for permission to enter the United States (or other countries—people seem to not recognize that every country on the planet have immigration laws that they enforce).

If the United States officials decline a person’s request to enter the United States, either provisionally or finally, that person breaks the law if they enter the United States. If some harm befalls him crossing rivers or seas or claiming over or under security barriers, that not the fault of the laws or structures that restrict entry into the United States. The idea that because people want to come here so badly they will break the law and endanger their lives does not mean that law should be suspended. If a person who does not have permission to be in the Untied States, after assessing their circumstances, is found to have no legitimate reason to be here, he should be deported. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances. But to say there should be no effective intervention in lawbreaking is to effectively advocate for the end of immigration law. And, then, we do not have a country. 

I am a humanitarian. I want to see an end of needless human suffering. I want sufficient resources devoted to immigration control in order to resolve the problem of overcrowding in detention facilities while making sure that those who have not yet been given permission to stay in America are not released and disappear into a nation of more than 300 million people (where half will not show up to honor their end of the bargain—in a population where 9 out of 10 are found to not have a legitimate reason to be here). There is no right to come to America to live, work, or go to school. There is a right to leave one’s home country, but it a privilege to be in a country that is not your native home. There are obligations imposed upon those who seek that privilege.

I am more than happy for my government to accept and review requests to work and go to school or seek refuge here. Supporting immigration law and an orderly process of immigration is not anti-immigrant. But a lot of people have substituted humanitarian concern for virtue signaling. They operate with a Manichean identitarian agenda that has at its core a loathing of the United States and a belief that the national interests reflect white supremacy. They see immigration control as automatically nativist, racist, and xenophobic. In this light, immigration enforcement officials become fascists and detention facilities become concentration camps. Ideology thus makes people see and say things that have no basis in reality. Crenshaw is justified in his characterization of this point of view.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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