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Shapiro: Immigration reform makes theoretical, practical sense

Robert E. Shapiro is adjunct professor philosophy St. Xavier University Chicago practicing trial lawyer.

Robert E. Shapiro is adjunct professor of philosophy at St. Xavier University in Chicago and a practicing trial lawyer.

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Updated: August 8, 2013 7:02AM



In Plato’s Republic, Socrates, the philosopher par excellence, arranges to tell the guardians of his city that they were born out of the earth where their city is located. This “noble lie” provides a natural explanation to the city’s rulers for what’s accidental.

There is no inherent connection between you and the place where you are born. It is just a matter of chance where you entered the world.

Although Socrates is sometimes accused of overstating matters, we might still do well to ponder his point as we consider immigration reform.

When we call the United States “our” country we are not referring to anything that equates to ownership but celebrating our good luck in being born in a place of such great prosperity and freedom. That we were born here, and even that we decided to stay and reside here, gives us little inherent right of ownership.

Now, no one would suggest that we give up what we have on such a theoretical basis. But as we enjoy the benefits of being born in the U.S., we should recognize our obligation for responsible stewardship of what we’ve inherited.

This includes how we treat others who wish to share in our county’s political and financial bounty. Indignation toward them, let alone hostility, seems completely misplaced.

Practically speaking, Socrates’ insight should tell us that we ought to approach prospective immigrants with sound policy and compassion, along with an appreciation of what’s necessary for our security.

The best policy should include a proper consideration of both our best interests and those of the prospective newcomers. Certainly, we should not fault those who want to share in the American dream or turn away those who seem particularly well suited to help advance it.

Among the provisions in the new immigration legislation now before Congress are those that liberalize admission for foreigners who wish to take advantage of America’s enormous educational resources and those who want to contribute their expertise. This makes eminent good sense.

But let us also not forget those willing to take on the more menial jobs that most Americans shun — allowing these prospective citizens to begin writing their stories of rags-to-riches success or at least to attain a decent living by working hard and contributing to the general welfare.

At the same time, we, the lucky ones, need to show compassion not just for political refugees but for the children of illegal immigrants who bear none of the supposed “sins” of their fathers in being born in, or brought to, a foreign land.

These children deserve a chance to succeed, as so many of our children have before them, once they are provided with the medical care, educational opportunities and job possibilities of other residents.

If they commit to work and study hard, to defend our country and to undertake the responsibilities of citizenship, what sense is there in denying them the opportunity?

The new legislation takes over from the failed Dream Act in providing this kind of road map for these children to legally pursue the American dream. In this respect, too, the proposed immigration reform bill makes sense.

Security makes sense as well. The proposed legislation does not skimp here either. But those who think that the only good legislation keeps others out, while we stay in, should ask themselves how they got “in” themselves.

We deserve credit and protection for embracing the obligations of citizenship, surely, and the new legislation provides both. But part of being a good American is a recognition how lucky we all are to be Americans.

As Abraham Lincoln said during his second inaugural address in 1865, let us approach those less fortunate than ourselves “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Informed by such considerations, we should proceed in the true spirit of American goodwill to invite to our shores those who would join with us as our fellow citizens in making even stronger and more successful the greatest country on Earth.

Robert Shapiro , a practicing lawyer, is also an adjunct professor of philosophy at St. Xavier University in Chicago.



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