The Declaration of Independence, properly viewed by Abraham Lincoln as our fundamental document (not the Constitution, which merely implements what the Declaration began), says that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights. These words reflected the Founding Fathers’ principles. They violated those principles by not extending equality and rights to (among others) women, slaves, people without property, people of non-European ancestry, and people not of certain Christian sects. But they never gave up those principles.
As stated in Immigration and Asylum: From 1900 to the present (Matthew J. Gibney, ed.), John Locke, whose philosophy was a basis for what our Founding Fathers wrought, observed that God gave the world “to Mankind in common”. Immanuel Kant, expounding on this idea in 1795, declared that “all men are entitled to present themselves in the society of others by virtue of their right to communal possession of the earth’s surface. Since the earth is a globe, they cannot disperse over an infinite area, but must necessarily tolerate one another’s company. And no-one originally has any greater right than anyone else to occupy any particular portion of the earth.”
Before the philosophers came the Koran and its extension of protection to strangers. Before the Koran came the Bible, which explicitly states that we must have the same law for the alien and the citizen, and prohibits oppression of foreigners at least 36 times. Other cultures play the same tune. Japanese proverb: “Even a hunter cannot kill a bird that comes to him for refuge.”
Do we believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence? Do we believe in the Declaration’s philosophical underpinnings from the likes of Locke and Kant, and in the Declaration’s “decent respect to the opinions of mankind”? Do we believe in Holy Writ?
If we believe in any of these things, yet we take part in what passes for immigration enforcement in our country – betraying religion, betraying principle, betraying people, for reasons of money and xenophobia – then we are liars.
In commenting on slavery – a denial of fundamental human rights – Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” He wrote of how slavery corrupted the young masters: “[T]hus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, [the child] cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities.”
The injustice of slavery bequeathed civil war to the Founders’ grandchildren.
What will be the legacy of our injustice – our denial of fundamental human rights – to foreigners who seek refuge or who live peacefully as our neighbors?