“They are people, and they are here. If there’s any other requirement, I haven’t heard it.”
The pugnacious Founding Father was explaining how slaves living in the 18th century colonies were properly described as Americans. But the sentiment applies as well to today’s controversy over how we treat people who are living in our country without the required permission and paperwork.
(If, that is, Adams ever really said this. It’s from the play and movie “1776” and, unlike several other lines from that work, it doesn’t show up in a Google search as something that he — or Abigail Adams or Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson — really said. If he didn’t, he should have.)
The Declaration of Independence, which Adams helped to create, is about the rights of man. The Constitution of the United States speaks repeatedly about the rights of “persons,” not, excepting the bits about holding public office, “citizens.”
The bit in the draft Declaration that abhorred slavery was edited out at the insistence of the South. But the Second Continental Congress preserved in its indictment against the British king his really annoying habit of impeding the flow of immigrants to the colonies.
Fifty-six delegates to the Second Continental Congress from 13 colonies signed the Declaration of Independence all those years ago. Fifty-six law enforcement leaders of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force from 23 states signed a Welcoming Week Letter just the other day.
The latter will, in comparison, be little noted or long remembered. But it is very much in the same tradition as the former.
The letter from the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, an organization of current and past sheriffs and chiefs of police from around the country, explained — in English and in Spanish — that local law enforcement agencies are there to keep everyone safe. And everyone means everyone.
That means that the feds, not your local police officers and sheriff’s deputies, are in charge of enforcing immigration laws, deportation orders and the like.
Local cops will work with federal enforcement when there is a clear common purpose, usually arresting folks who are drug runners, human traffickers and violent criminals. Otherwise, its not our job.
Among those putting their John Hancocks on the letter were Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and his immediate predecessor, Chris Burbank.
The sentiment deserves credit for its simple humanity, but it is also as practical as an old police car.
People who are supposed to protect other people from murder, robbery, assault and all that other police stuff simply cannot function if they are expected to treat people of one color, origin, class and, yes, immigration status differently than another.
Members of the disfavored class won’t report crimes, won’t come forward as witnesses, will just circle the wagons as a defense against the threat that they, their relatives, their coworkers and employees can’t trust anyone with a badge.
Crime in such a society will only increase.
And, frankly, we need immigrants.
The birthrate among Americans is declining, as it is in most First World nations. The expectation that educated women will choose to have more babies out of a sense of duty to the workforce or the Social Security and Medicare actuaries is completely Margaret Atwood dystopian and it ain’t gonna happen.
And there’s no question, as conservative pundits who want to differentiate themselves from the hater in chief who now resides in John Adams’ old house increasingly say, that the fresh energy of immigrants, especially those fleeing totalitarian states, is a tonic for our culture and our economy.
We want newcomers to — well, the Borg have ruined the word “assimilate” — be part of us, legally and socially. But not so much that they don’t share with us their music, food, styles, food, beauty, food, fables, energy, food and, most of all, food.
They won’t do that if they are afraid of our cops, our doctors, our schools.
Any distortion of our labor market is best addressed by legalizing virtually all workers so bosses can’t avoid minimum wage, workplace safety and other laws by preferring invisible workers over citizens and legal residents.
Utah, a state founded by undocumented migrants, is pretty good at realizing all that. We have the Utah Compact, a document that encourages finding a humane solution to our immigration woes. The other day members of the Legislature finally realized that they need to put up some money for a campaign to encourage everyone to get themselves counted in the 2020 census.
They are people and they are here. We need to count everybody. And everybody needs to count.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is still waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of a taco truck on every corner.