"Where did you come from?"

"You should go back where you came from."

Published . 1746 words.

The scene: An amphitheatre or lecture hall, with two stools, a cocktail table with a pitcher of water and two glasses. On the edge of the spotlight is an armchair for the host, who sits silently as the speakers banter. Perched on the stools are those two interlocutors. We join their conversation, now in progress.

Restrictes: Look, all I’m saying is that localities have the right to order recent immigrants to go back to where they came from. And they should. We’re full.

Openo: Big shoutout to our host tonight, Indiana State University. Did you know, Restrictes, that I went to ISU?

Restrictes: I did. And your major was Marketing, wasn’t it? And what does that have to do with immigration?

Openo: A close guess! It was Communications. Shoutout to Professor K! But the reason I bring that up is because I’m not from Indiana. So I’m an immigrant of sorts. I moved here, went to school, got a job, bought a house, settled down. And in doing so, I displaced Indianans. So where should I go back to?

Restrictes: You should go back to where you came from, and improve the economy there.

Openo: But if I do that, should my parents also do that?

Restrictes: Yes, if they were immigrants, they should have returned to the place they came from.

Openo: So I’ll move back to North Carolina, where I was born, and Mom will move back to South Carolina, and Dad will move back to Oregon. Now Mom and Dad are still raising my younger brother; he was born in North Carolina just like me. Should he go with Mom, back to South Carolina, or with Dad, back to Oregon? My bro isn’t from either place, so which parent’s origin is more significant?

Restrictes: Look, migration within a country isn't a good metaphor for migration between countries. Your parents are both Americans, which means they have generally compatible cultures.

Openo: Right, right. Mom’s from an extremely Catholic church in inner-city Columbia, in full communion with the Holy See. They’re big on charity and can’t stand the sight of prophylactics. Dad’s from a Unitarian Universalist church on the mountain side of Oregon, big on guns and independence and self-actualization and mutual non-aggression and protected sex. You’d wonder how two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Raleigh where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to —

Restrictes: Yes, yes, Romeo, we get it, your parents are dissimilar in culture, and that they were able to adapt to the culture of North Carolina should be read as a metaphor for allowing people to come to the United States. But that’s not my point here. You’re making an argument based on cultural compatibility, but I’m talking about the legal right. I’m saying that all immigration changes the native culture, and that every region has the right to preserve its native culture, by limiting immigration, and that it should.

Openo: Like how London protects its original food, the curry?

Restrictes: There’s good food to be gained from immigrants, yes, but it shouldn’t go so far as to drown out the native cuisine or culture.

Openo: So do you eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day?

Restrictes: As all good Irish-Americans do, I do. That’s not an example of immigrants replacing a region’s culture with their own culture, though; it’s the opposite: immigrants replacing their own culture with a region’s. They adopted corned beef as a food because it was plentiful and cheap in the land they moved to.

Openo: So then what would you suggest as an example of immigrants replacing native culture, to native detriment?

Restrictes: I didn’t say detriment; are you assuming that all immigration is detrimental? Or are you assuming that I’d assume such a thing? I’m talking about immigration where the invited immigrants change the culture of the land they were invited to.

Openo: I may have been assuming that you would assume that all immigration is bad. Sorry. Are there any examples of invited immigration where the immigrants changed the culture of the inviting nation?

Restrictes: How about the colonization of the Americas by European nations?

Openo: A good example, but they hardly issued invitations to Columbus. It wasn’t a voluntary process for the inhabitants. Whether or not they wanted to repel boarders, the native Americans could not turn away the immigrating European hordes. In the 1860s, the Irish were welcomed to the United States by a country that could have turned them away, as it turned away Jewish refugees in the 1940s. The native Americans didn’t have the power to turn the Europeans away.

Restrictes: So now we’re looking for a country, which can defend its borders, inviting in outsiders, who then change the culture of the inviting country in some significant way. Is that right?

Openo; Yes, and we’re looking for this specific thing because I think it’s good to have examples of how nations invited culture change; where they thought they would benefit from that culture change.

Restrictes: For a purely physical example of culture change, Australians invited immigrés from Europe after World War Two, and even though they may not have been Australians in culture or climate, they helped build a hydrological system that is the foundation of agriculture in Southwestern Australia even today. That agriculture is now a significant part of the economy: thus, immigrants changed the country’s culture.

Openo: The enabling of farming in an area of a country through imported labor seems like a distant connection.

Restrictes: It’s the best I can think of at the moment. Have you remembered any?

Openo: Returning to your Irish-American heritage, how about the United States, which in various times and places encouraged immigrants from Catholic countries? There are some concrete ways that Catholic immigrants have changed the culture of the U.S.: There’s been at least one Catholic president, and Columbus Day and the Pledge of Allegiance were backed by Catholic men’s groups. These are examples of immigrés who were invited in and contributed.

Restrictes: Okay, so what’s your point on invitations and culture?

Openo: That just because immigration can be restricted, does not mean it should be.

Restrictes: Right. So then let us return to the topic of the right to restrict immigration. We both agree that a country has the right to control its own borders, and part of that is to control the passage of people through those borders. You say that the borders should be much more open; I say the borders should be much more closed. And as guiding principles we agree that it should be for the benefit of the country, though we disagree what causes benefit. But let’s set benefit aside for the moment. Who gets to make the decisions about who should immigrate?

Openo: In this system of government, the decision is made by bureaucrats enacting policy set by the elected executive, in accordance with the laws written by the elected legislators, and interpreted by judges, who were either elected directly or appointed and confirmed by the elected.

Restrictes: Thus the government derives its mandate from the electors: “We the People…” reads the Constitution. And who is eligible to vote? The US restricts the right to vote to citizens, generally speaking, and what citizens are eligible to vote is in turn determined by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches in accordance with their interpretation of the will of the people.

Openo: The law about who can vote is then determined, not by the present electors, but the electors of the previous electoral cycle. What is legal is therefore determined according to the opinions of the past, not the present.

Restrictes: Sure, I’ll grant you that.

Openo: And laws that have been in place longer are seen as more inevitable, unchangeable, historic, legitimate, and so on, right?

Restrictes: The most-often-referred-to example of that is the Constitution, but the Constitution’s principles were drawn from prior laws, and so on. Are you going to appeal to antiquity?

Openo: In this conversation, yes. Would you say that people who have been in this country longer have more legitimacy in their voting habits, because the reasoning behind those votes is better informed by a longer history of presence in the territory in which they vote?

Restrictes: And thus it follows that the opinions of families who have been residing in a given immigration area for longer should have more sway.

Openo: Are you sure that you want to admit that point?

Restrictes: Well, I’m curious what you’ll use it to say.

Openo: On my mother’s side, my families have been here since the mid 1600s, when they emigrated to Massachusetts. On my father’s side, well, they used to own Maryland. So based on the tenure of my families, I say that immigration should be freer than it is today, and by this theory of who should have rights to decide immigration, can you gainsay that?