By Patrick B. McGuigan | CapitolBeatOK
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 in Mexico, or find a way to get to America?
Many fans of immigration restrictions — including supporters of Oklahoma’s House Bill 1804, the controversial state immigration law passed in 2007 — reply honestly: “I’d go to America.”
Mexicans who come here are for the most part apt heirs of the English who fled religious wars 400 years ago, Jews who fled pogroms in the 18th century, Irish who fled the potato famine and English oppression, former slaves who came from the Old South to establish Indian Territory towns like Langston and Boley in the late 1860s, Hungarians fleeing communism in the 1950s, 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 then-Gov. Brad Henry signed, House Bill 1804. Whether the interpretation was fair, the message many took from the debate was: “No Mexicans need apply.”
The Mexicans I know or encounter 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, with the kids in tow.
And, to be clear, 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 harsh restrictions in laws and policies on immigration, Oklahomans, Arizonans and others had chosen the way of liberty.
In 2010 at our state Capitol, legislation that passed the House of Representatives 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 had slapped down a Texas law designed to withhold money from educating children whose parents were not “legally admitted” to the United States.
Oklahoma House fiscal staff estimated the law would have cost our 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 treated all other unfunded mandates that year. He didn’t give it a hearing. That worked for me.
Aside from moral concerns I have expressed in past commentaries, I hope the recent elections and recent mass deportations — yes, during Barack Obama’s administration — lead all of us to exercise greater wisdom on immigration policy.
That hope includes conservatives, and Republicans.
Despite the devastation of the 2012 presidential campaign, as we look ahead U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is pretty good evidence that Democrats cannot forever take Hispanic support for granted and that Republicans are foolish to ignore the growing clout and the healthy leavening influence that comes from affirmation and inclusion of immigrants and their children.
If none of this reasoning focuses the mind, how about this:
By 2060, 30 percent 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 this lead?
Wall Street Journal editorial writer Jason Riley argued in a 2010 speech 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.”
At the time of that OU conference, my friend M. Scott Carter, a writer for The Journal Record, an Oklahoma City business newspaper, reported Riley’s belief that many 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- to 12-million plus illegal immigrants in the country.”
Riley argued for a guest worker program, saying it would “reduce illegal immigration.”
He advocated 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 seems to be Rubio, 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 fair share of moderates as supporters.
In Puerto Rico, the party’s face belonged for four years to Luis Fortuno, a governor who pursued pro-market conservative policies. This year, he lost, but that doesn’t discredit his ethnicity or his intentions.
Who has been the face of the Oklahoma Republican Party, at least on immigration? For a long time, it was state Rep. Randy Terrill, not a sunny face. Now that he is gone from the state Capitol after he lost a Republican primary when he ran for county commission seat, perhaps there is a chance for the Grand Old Party to take a fresh look at immigration.
I kind of like the Mexicans and the Cubans and the Central Americans.
Several years ago, when I worked with former Commissioner of Labor Brenda Reneau, we stopped in at a newspaper in western Oklahoma, west of El Reno.
On the verge of holding hearings on illegal immigration, an area where she was trying to fashion a middle path, Reneau sought the editor’s input. After some fairly stereotypical anti-immigrant rhetoric, the editor nonetheless concluded: “Hell, the Mexicans are good people. If it wasn’t for them, we’d be Class 2A” in high school sports.
In that moment of candor, a rural small-town editor made a pragmatic case for inclusion.
I wish Oklahoma would embrace even those who might have skirted the edges to get here, who have gone on to work hard, who obey other laws and who are trying 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.
Those folks almost never had the piece of paper they were supposed to have — something granted in advance that authorized them to come to what many of them considered the promised land, Oklahoma.
In the land runs of 1889 and 1893, I guess you could say they cheated, those who came to be called Sooners. But people in this land 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 is.
Let the sunshine in. Boomer Sooner.
NOTE: This is adapted from commentaries that appeared previously in two Oklahoma newspapers, The El Reno Tribune and The City Sentinel, and on the website Tulsa Today.
Contact Patrick B. McGuigan at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.