Immigration and the American Exception

with Richard Samuelson

This next conversation is with Richard Samuelson on the constitutional principles that have guided our nation’s approach to immigration, that is, until recently. In an essay in the Summer 2013 Claremont Review of Books, (link no longer available) adapted from an academic version published in Citizens and Statesman, Samuelson argues that

Our political institutions strive to treat individuals as individuals, who relate to the government on that basis, rather than as parts of groups, castes, or classes. A regime dedicated to protecting the rule of law and the rights of men–including the right of each individual to make his way in the world, and to keep the rewards he gains for his work and talent–was the key to making America a beacon for wandering peoples, and for immigrants in general.

Things changed, Samuelson observes, with the tremendous growth in government power and its centralized administrative capabilities. This fact alone threatens to fundamentally change our exceptional approach to welcoming new entrants to the country. In short, the federal government relates to Americans not as individuals but as members of divers groups, rent-seeking, special interest, race, gender, the list is long. Consequently, the federal government no longer understands the individual citizen as deserving of equal treatment apart from group membership. If this is true, and much evidence suggests it is, our approach to immigration will be the management of hyphenated groups and not persons “as equal citizens, creating together the government by which we secure those public goods that cannot be secured any other way.”