The debate over immigration is a hot topic once again. Those who are familiar with the history of America know that this is a recurring theme. Every new wave of immigrants is generally met with hostility and racism. Once the wave gets settled in, then they can join in and be hostile towards the next wave.
One somewhat new phenomenon is the desire to build massive walls along the US-Mexican border to help block the tide of people coming across the border. Of course, the idea of building walls to block movement is nothing new. The ancient Chinese built a Great Wall (or rather lots of walls), the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall, and the Russians built the Berlin Wall.
From a practical perspective, walls are not terribly effective. People generally find a way to go through, over, under or around them. In the situation at hand, building a wall between Mexico and the United States seems rather impractical in terms of the cost and the likely effectiveness of the project. Rather ironically, there have already been incidents of contractors hiring illegal immigrants to build walls.
From a symbolic perspective, these walls are presumably intended to show that America is serious about border defense and keeping the rule of law in place. In actuality, walls send a rather different message. Border walls are symbols, but in this case they are symbols of fear and defeat.
These walls symbolize the fear some Americans have of outsiders, differences, and change. This fear is nothing new. As mentioned above, each new wave of immigrants has generally been met with fear. In each case the fears were not realized-each wave became a part of America and the people made (and still make) great contributions to America. While immigration does pose problems, meeting a problem with fear leads to poor decision making and this leads to actions that history tends to reveal as sadly mistaken.
These walls also serve as symbols of defeat. By putting up such walls, we are sending the message that we cannot handle the situation-we have been beaten and have to hide behind walls. This is not the right message to send.
This is not to say that the borders should be left wide open and that immigration should be unregulated. However, open borders are very important to a country that claims moral goodness, democracy and freedom as values.
Open borders show that the country is strong and unafraid. It shows that we do not fear our neighbors and that we are strong enough to handle threats that might arise. Yes, we should be vigilant, but we should not cower behind walls.
Open borders show that we value democracy and freedom, that we believe people should be free to chose where to live and that we do not create iron curtains between us and the rest of the world. We are, after all, supposed to be a democracy and not a totalitarian state. Yes, there are some people that should not be allowed into the country, such as violent criminals. We do, after all, have plenty of our own already. But, we should not wall people out because some people think they are the wrong color or speak the wrong language.
Open borders show that we are morally good in that we are willing to take in those seeking a better life and that we are a hospitable people and willing to be friends with our neighbors. The great religions and moral thinkers tell us repeatedly that it is important to love our neighbors and care for others. Building walls is not the way to do this.