In the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s immigration executive orders, one of the key points being missed is that every nation has the sovereign right and power to determine who may cross its borders. The Supreme Court first addressed this issue in 1799, in United States v. Fries holding that “Any alien coming to this country must or ought to know, that this being an independent nation, it has all the rights concerning the removal of aliens which belong by the law of nations to any other.”
Therefore an unadmitted and nonresident alien has no constitutional right to be let into the United States.
The fact is that the immigration policies of most other nations run directly contrary to what foreign leaders are demanding of the United States.
This shouldn’t be a particularly shocking proposition. Every nation ruled by a functioning government makes some kind of attempt to control its borders and determine who may reside within its territory. Nevertheless, the U.S. seems to be constantly criticized by so-called global elites for trying to regain control of its borders, its demography, and its economic destiny. This criticism is particularly disturbing in view of the fact that the United States accepts more than 1 million immigrants annually and allows nearly 300 million temporary visitors each year. In addition, the U.S. is the most generous in terms of the types of financial assistance and social programs that it offers to recently arrived immigrants, some of whom receive public assistance for the rest of their lives.
By comparison, some of the United States’ closest allies and trading partners are downright unwelcoming to immigrants. Japan may have the strictest immigration laws of any modern nation. It unabashedly pursues immigration policies intended to maintain a racially unique and homogeneous society. Its foreign population hovers around 1.7 percent of the total population. Citizenship is notoriously difficult for foreigners to obtain – even those who marry Japanese citizens. And Japan shows no remorse for using its immigration policies to defend its language and culture.
Prior to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea was virtually closed to foreign immigrants. With the exception of the foreign military contingents overseeing the 38th Parallel boundary with North Korea, South Korea had virtually no foreign-born population. Largely due to the need for skilled labor to fuel industrial and high-tech development, not due to any belief that South Korea needs a more diverse population, there are now 1 million or so foreigners living in Korea, a country of nearly 51 million people.
Although South Korea passed a general naturalization law in 1998, anyone applying for citizenship must demonstrate knowledge of the Korean language befitting a Korean national and possess the ability to earn a living on the basis of his or her own skills. Korea rigorously enforces its immigration laws and requires all individuals deported to pay for the expenses incurred by their removal. (A reasonable policy if a nation is dedicated to immigration enforcement.)
Mexico has been a vocal critic of U.S. immigration policy and has been actively involved in encouraging Mexican citizens to violate U.S. immigration laws. Yet, illegal entry into Mexico is a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 5,000 pesos. Foreigners are admitted to Mexico if they are deemed likely to contribute to national progress and may be barred from the country if they upset “the equilibrium of the national demographics,” are found detrimental to “economic or national interests,” or “they are not found to be physically or mentally healthy.” The agency responsible for administering Mexican immigration law is notoriously difficult to deal with and Mexican immigration laws are famously unfriendly to employment-based immigrants. Meanwhile, Mexico forcibly deports large numbers of illegal aliens who migrate from Central and South America “just looking for jobs.”
Switzerland styles itself as an example of a successful multilingual, multicultural nation. Nevertheless, its immigration policies are not particularly welcoming. While Switzerland plays host to numerous E.U. residents, pursuant to the Schengen and Dublin accords, Swiss citizens have consistently rejected legislation that would enable more foreign nationals to become permanent residents. By contrast, a 2010 referendum on the removal of criminal aliens was accepted, making foreigners convicted of certain crimes (among them illegally receiving social insurance benefits) deportable. In order to become a citizen of Switzerland, one must hold lawful permanent residence for a minimum of 12 years, compared to three (for spouses of citizens) or five (all other permanent residents) in the United States.
The fact is that the immigration policies of most other nations run directly contrary to what foreign leaders are demanding of the United States. The Trump administration has done nothing other than assert the same sovereign rights, protected under international law, being asserted by most other nations: the rights to control one’s borders and defend oneself from terrorism and economic exploitation. Trump promised this on the campaign stump and that is exactly what he is delivering.
Despite the hysterics from the left-leaning global elite, a return to more rational immigration policy will not deprive the United States of its fundamental character — nor, in the absence of international hypocrisy, put the U.S. at odds with its neighbors, allies, trading partners, and affiliates. It will, however, result in an America that is safer, for both those born here, and for those whom we allow to adopt this great nation as their new home. When a nation cannot control its borders, it ceases to be a nation at all.
Matt O’Brien is the former chief of the National Security Division within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He has also served as assistant chief counsel in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s New York District. He is currently the director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).