GOP ought to recall its welcoming roots in immigration debate | Opinion


There was once a prominent liberal Democrat — he would one day become president — who embraced a big, broad belief in the American dream that too many of today’s political leaders reject. 

This future president said in a 1952 commencement address: “I, in my own mind, have thought of America has a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land. … [T]he means of selection was very simple as to how this land should be populated: Any place in the world and any person from those places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up the roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel half across the world, was welcome here.

“And they have brought with them to the bloodstream that has become America that precious courage … to strive for something better for themselves and for their children and their children’s children. I believe that God in shedding his grace on this country has always in this divine scheme of things kept an eye on our land and guided it as a promised land for these people.”

The liberal was Ronald Reagan, speaking at Williams Woods College in Fulton, Mo. But, you say, that was long before Reagan, the actor, became Reagan, the conservative political leader. He wouldn’t talk like that today, would he?

Think again.

In articulating his immigration policies while running for president in 1980, Reagan said, “Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Open the borders both ways.”

In 1981, then-President Reagan insisted, “Our nation is a nation of immigrants. More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

Reagan also argued the United States “must ensure adequate legal authority to establish control over immigration.” And, he said, “No free and prosperous nation can by itself accommodate all those who seek a better life or flee persecution. We must share this responsibility with other countries.”

So, Reagan was not for wide-open borders, but he celebrated that people dreamed about America. Reagan, who described this country as a “shining city on a hill,” knew an unwelcoming America was a weak America.

His principles for immigration in 1981 would serve us well today. They included:

“We must … recognize that both the United States and Mexico have historically benefited from Mexicans obtaining employment in the United States.”

“Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status. At the same time, in so doing, we must not encourage illegal immigration.

“We shall seek new ways to integrate refugees into our society without nurturing their dependence on welfare.”

Reagan meant what he said. In 1986, he signed



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