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Illegal Immigration And The Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850

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Politicians and ideologues insist that illegal immigrants should be deported because they broke the law. But some laws ought to be broken.

In 1850, the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act as part of a compromise between Southern slave-owners and Northern abolitionists. The law made it a duty for every law enforcement official to arrest runaway slaves. A suspected slave had no right to a jury trial or any kind of legal defense. In addition, the act of aiding a runaway slave became a criminal offense subject to six months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

I bring up this historical episode because of a similar injustice is occurring today. Escaped slaves who risk life and limb to come to the free states of America are captured and returned to face severe punishment (and sometimes immediate execution) from their masters.

I am referring primarily to the Cuban, but also the Chinese, Haitian, and many other immigrants who are denied entry or forced to return to dictatorships. Some are political activists seeking freedom of expression, but most simply do not wish to live as property of the state, and will do anything to live as free men and women.

These would-be immigrants have shown by their actions than they are far better Americans than most people born in the U.S. While most Americans don't even bother to vote, they abandon their entire life and culture and often risk everything to embrace the American dream. Upon coming to America, they are usually far more successful than their native born-counterparts. By any rational standard of justice, these immigrants deserve to be here far more than the millions of welfare slobs, America-hating hippies and intellectuals, and all the union workers and assorted privileged moochers who believe that their livelihood comes from a divine birthright rather than the unbridled genius and hard work of self-made men.

And yet, I see news stories in the "qurkies" section of the paper about Cubans trying to float to America in a car, or squeeze in the seat cushions of a car, as if there is something humorous about people so desperate to live in freedom that they float in open ocean in a car--twice. Or people who cross a desert with barely enough food and water to escape the crushing poverty of Mexico or Guatemala. Or people who sell their life savings and suffocate in a shipping crate for months for a chance to wash dishes in California and send a few dollars back home. I would like to ask all the native-born American citizens whether they would be courageous enough to take those kinds of risks to provide for their family.

Whether they come here to escape political oppression or simply the pervasive poverty and idleness of welfare socialist states, the immigrants who come here seeking a free, productive life are Americans-in-spirit, regardless of what some bureaucrat or politician says. Any law that claims otherwise is an abomination, a gross injustice, and should be treated in the same way that moral men regarded the Fugitive Slave Act or the Nazi Nuremberg Laws.

I do not believe the facts I mention -- the plight of oppressed peoples, the risks they take, and the productive lives they lead here are in dispute. I cannot understand what sort of irrationality, what bigotry, what idiocy would make Americans deny the very legacy their nation is founded on. As an immigrant, I sympathize with Frederick Douglass, who, like me, was a persecuted minority who escaped a slave state to embrace American values and pursue the American Dream. Unlike him, I came here legally -- but I'll be damned if any "law" was going to keep my out. I conclude with his words:

O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.


Edited by GreedyCapitalist
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I am appalled that the thought process of letting millions of people into a country with many/most refusing to meld into society.

Have you heard the reason many of the "reformers" are drumming up the marches? Because they want votes. And they know that appealing to non educated immigrants is like appealing to those attending mass, you just have to know how to pull the strings.

Why would anyone be ok with pouring in felons and drug pushers by the droves that are blending in with those looking to make a better life?

You have to have laws to process these people legally and orderly just like the rest of our ancestors. And unlike mine and anyone else’s that I know of, these Illegal are refusing our way of life and have no interest in becoming American.

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I am appalled that the thought process of letting millions of people into a country with many/most refusing to meld into society


these Illegal are refusing our way of life and have no interest in becoming American.

What does 'melding into society' mean, and is it meant to be a good thing? For instance, did Howard Roark meld into society?

Excellent post by the way David, probably the best short essay on immigration I've encountered.

Edited by Hal
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You certainly didn’t require me to tell you this, but I’ll give it a go.

He melded by being productive and able to carry on in a flawed society. Let’s assume he was Spanish. Do you think for a second he would continue to speak his native language and forgo the individual benefit to himself English would give him?

Would he demand bi lingual education for himself and others? Throw rallies tantamount to socialist gatherings seen in places around the world? Na.

That’s Ellsworth’s gig. The people who are running these for political benefit win the Ellsworth award in my opinion.

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"Melding into society" is a little collectivist-sounding, don't you think?

Remember a "society" is an abstraction pertaining to a collection of individuals. It is not an entity istelf.

In the case of Roark, he didn't "meld" at all; if anything, he defied commonly-accepted standards and stood against "society" - not by non-conformity, but by individualism.

Were he an immigrant to a nation that did not speak English, but valued his services, he would learn the language - doing so increases his value to the market. He would not require others to learn his language any more than he would require them to accept his architecture. If he were content to live in a small, isolated community of people who wish to be free, but not learn a new language, there's nothing wrong with that. It's limiting and stagnant and unambitious, and certainly not worthy of the character of a man like Roark, but there's nothing wrong with it, nor should such a person be prevented from seeking freedom simply because they're not just as ambitious as we'd like them to be.

The anti-mandated-assimilation thing goes both ways. Don't require me to learn Spanish, and I won't require immigrants to learn English. But, if we choose to do so of our own free will, we might find that a mutually profitable relationship can be formed.

Edited by synthlord
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