Across the country, lawmakers are working to limit illegal immigration and reform policy so that more individuals can honorably and legally become American citizens. Last year’s notorious immigration battle in Arizona was met with hostility from pro-illegal immigration forces who misunderstood the Founders’ intent for a legal and meaningful naturalization process into America.

Now, the same kind of battle is heating up in Alabama. With an estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants (according to the Pew Hispanic Center), Alabama leaders felt the federal laws weren’t protecting the state adequately. Considering the population has increased fivefold what it was 10 years ago, one can sympathize.

Alabama’s new law is currently being met by a lawsuit from the Department of Justice (DOJ) but the case is unwarranted. As Heritage’s Matt Mayer writes:

The argument that state and local governments mustincur enormous fiscal and societal costs, asserting that all aspects of immigration (legal or illegal) are entirely the purview of the federal government, is constitutionally suspect.

…Alabama’s new law is sweeping only in the sense that it encompasses many laws passed in other states in one bill (E-verify, voter identification, benefits, immigration status, etc.). Most of the provisions are consistent with positions upheld in court or not subject to legal challenges.”

The Declaration of Independence states that all men—not just all Americans—have a God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That said, the task of the US government is to secure the rights of its own citizens—not mankind. The liberties and opportunities that the US affords its citizens are the main reason why so many people long to immigrate here. And because America is built on the idea of universal equality, all may become citizens in principle (not in practice of course).

The naturalization process isn’t automatic the minute one crosses over a country line, though. It requires education, dedication and commitment to the American way.  Alexander Hamilton wrote that prospective immigrants should “learn the principles and imbibe the spirit of our government; and to admit of a philosophy at least, of their feeling a real interest in our affairs.”

Heritage’s Dr. Matthew Spalding writes in the “Understanding America” series “Why Does America Welcome Immigrants?”:

Individuals have a natural right to emigrate from their homeland, but that does not entail a right to immigrate to this country without the consent of the American people as expressed through the laws of the United States.

…When the American people welcome an immigrant, naturalization in America works differently than it does in other countries. A foreigner can immigrate to France or Japan but never become truly French or Japanese. But a foreigner of any ethnic heritage or racial background can immigrate to the U.S. and become, in every sense of the term, an American.

Such a citizenship is a privilege and America’s openness to immigrants from all religions, backgrounds, and cultures makes it an exceptional one. The latest crackdown on illegal immigration in Alabama doesn’t mean things are changing from that view.

While the arguments surrounding illegal immigration are fiery, they ultimately center on a common desire to expand America’s melting pot. Despite the disagreement on methodology, America overwhelmingly welcomes immigrants as no other country does. Spalding writes:

While there are differences of opinion about the number of immigrants the nation should accept and the process by which they should become citizens, there has always been widespread, bipartisan agreement that those who come here should become Americans.

Many foreigners risk death and violence every single day in hopes of setting foot on American soil. The promise of the American dream lures men of every shade and culture because of the exceptional freedom and opportunity offered within our borders and these basic human rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence are such that men would leave their homes and risk their lives for an opportunity to exercise them.

“America welcomes newcomers while insisting that they learn and embrace its civic culture and political institutions, thereby form­ing one nation from many peoples—e pluribus unum,” writes Spalding.

Thus, in the legal immigration process, individuals receive specific education in history, policy, and political ideas so they become assimilated to the country in the most natural way possible. Without such education, it would be difficult to grasp the “fundamental sense [that] America is an exceptional nation not because of what it does—but because of what it believes,” writes Heritage’s David Azzerad.

To understand America, it is imperative to recognize the importance of immigrants to our nation’s past, present and future. It is also important to note those immigrants’ essential allegiance to the American political order first and foremost.

Spalding writes:

In the end, a confident policy to assimilate immigrants must be understood as part of a larger renewal of our principles, a reaffirmation of what we hold to be self-evident. After all, it is our common recognition of transcendent truths that binds us all together, and binds us across time to the patriots of 1776.

Nearly everyone in America descended from immigrants at some point in history and thank goodness for a wonderful, welcoming country that said to our ancestors, “Welcome home.”

Quick Hits: