Recently, off the shores of Miami, Florida, the American people were exposed to the ugly side of immigration laws-the forcible repatriation of illegal immigrants to their country of origin. Television viewers watched in horror as U.S. Coast Guard officials, using water cannons and pepper spray, attacked Cuban refugees in rafts who had fled their homeland and who were attempting to emigrate to the United States. The Coast Guard’s objective was to capture the refugees and forcibly return them to Cuba before they could set foot on American shores.
Outrage immediately broke out among the Cuban-American community in Miami over our government’s mistreatment of the refugees. What many people fail to recognize, however, is that our government’s attempt to capture and repatriate the Cuban refugees is the nasty, ugly, necessary, integral part of immigration laws themselves.
Immigration laws declare, in essence, that a foreigner cannot enter the United States without the permission of the federal government. The enforcement of these laws necessarily entails violence or the threat of violence against those who choose to disregard them. The first enforcement option is to use force to prevent the person from initially entering the country. This is the purpose of reinforced walls along the border.
But what if a person circumvents these barriers, illegally enters the country, and then is caught? What is the government to do with him? To permit him to remain in the United States would violate the terms of the immigration law. Thus, repatriation to the person’s country of origin becomes the only viable option.
Of course, this leads to such immoral and perverse consequences as our government’s cooperating with communist tyrants and repatriating people into communist tyranny, exactly what is happening with the Cuban situation. But the recent aggression against those defenseless Cuban refugees, as well as the repatriation of Cubans into communist tyranny, reflects how far immigration controls have plunged our nation into immorality and depravity. How can such conduct even remotely be reconciled with Judeo-Christian principles?
Of course, this is not the first time that immigration controls have been used to repatriate people. In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is often extolled as a lover of the poor, needy, and disadvantaged, caused tremendous suffering by using immigration controls to repatriate Mexican citizens residing in the United States to Mexico. Then, in what has become known as the infamous “voyage of the damned,” the Roosevelt administration, again relying on immigration laws, refused to permit Jewish passengers on the St. Louis to disembark at Miami Harbor, knowing that they would probably have to be returned to their country of origin-Nazi Germany.
Is this really what we want for the United States, a country whose heritage of open borders inspired the world throughout the 19th century? As we reflect upon the recent episode in Miami harbor and the continued repatriation of refugees into communist tyranny, we should be asking some basic moral questions. Why shouldn’t a person be free to cross borders in search of work in order to sustain or improve his life or simply to visit families and friends? Why shouldn’t people be free to engage in mutually beneficial economic relationships with each other? What business does our government have interfering with this peaceful activity?
On the eve of a new century, why not once again lead the world in the principles of liberty, morality, and right conduct toward others? Why not end the tyranny of immigration controls and repatriation and open our borders to the free movements of goods and people? Why not let the word of hope go forth to people all over the world that the American people have relighted the beacon on the Statue of Liberty? Why not once again dare to declare the words on that majestic statue to the people of the world: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Mr. Hornberger is co-editor of The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration.