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Immigration: My Brother’s Keeper
By Peter O’Brien

In my bureau is a jersey emblazoned with the words "Dengue Fever World Tour." A wise-guy I was working with had them made after what felt like the 100th straight "rat" hole we’d "visited" during some series of operations. Every place we went seemed to be preceded by a medical warnings brief longer than all the rest of the operation.

Until you've been through such places a few times it doesn't strike you, but things are really amazingly clean and healthy here in the US. This invariably gets you thinking about the poor people who live in such places. And how to take care of them.

After all, the Bible tells us that we’re our brother's keeper -- repeatedly, starting with Genesis and working all the way through the Gospels. The problem of course, comes with the direct application of that injunction. Do you, for example, give your "brother" everything he wants? If your friend is an alcoholic do you buy him a drink? Or do you force him to go through withdrawals and treatment? Or, do you recognize that, to be successful, he must first recognize that he has a problem? Perhaps, helping him must begin with refusing to help him, showing some tough love, and letting his situation deteriorate far enough that he recognizes his troubles before you step in.

The Good Book doesn’t tell us how to solve such problems, in part because there’s no "one size fits all" solution.

And so it might be with immigration. I'll begin by assuming that everyone actually wants what is truly best for all the people involved, and for our nation. That probably isn’t true of everyone, but…

So, first, we need to recognize that immigration is far more than people trying to get across our border to look for jobs.

Again, the case of the alcoholic is instructive; some behavior may provide short-term relief, but actually make root problems worse – like buying your pal a drink.

Arguably, many immigration "solutions” practiced by the US (and Europe) solve immediate problems (feed the hungry, solve short-term labor shortages), and provide some short-term moral balm, but what are they doing to the real root problem?

People aren't leaving the third world because things are simply a bit better here; they're leaving because things are far better here. And pretty horrible there.

Which leads to a simple question: why don't they fix things there? After all, it's not a mystery how the US works; make a copy of the Constitution, set up a participatory government, and wade into it. Free markets, representatives of the people debating, making fair laws, fair courts, etc.; work to establish a just and open society and let the people benefit from their own talents and industry.

Why don't they? Because most governments are run by folks who benefit from manipulating their laws and their economies (and their people) and so power and wealth becomes increasingly concentrated. After a while, if you're at the "bottom,” things look pretty bleak.

Why isn't there a revolution? The obvious answer is that those governments have the weapons.

But, there’s another piece to this. David Hume, the Scottish philosopher of the 1700s, noted that in fact all governments are, in one way or another, the one that people are willing to accept. Too oppressive and the people have every right, and eventually the numbers, to overthrow it. Even oppressive dictatorships are, at least initially, accepted by their people. When the oppression becomes so severe, and the living conditions so horrible, that they’re literally intolerable, the bulk of the citizens will act to change the government.

But, as long as there’s an escape valve - one that’s as welcomed by the oppressive governments as it is by the people fleeing those governments – then there’s much less chance of revolution.

Don’t you wonder when you hear some foreign leader assail the US for not allowing more immigrants from his country? Why does he want to get rid of his own people? Why doesn't he fix some of their problems? Is he afraid of his own citizens?

Maybe the right answer is that we need to take a hard look at where folks are coming from and show some tough love... When you next look at the immigration problem, ask yourself this simple question: are you trying to help these people in the long run? Or are you simply trying to make yourself feel better?


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