Colin Jost had a great joke on SNL a while back about how we tend to see America as a ride that only we can ride, and the second anyone else wants to get on it, we want to shut it down. I do think there's a lot to be said on how we somehow believe that just because our (collectively, not you and me necessarily) ancestors came here at a time when it was easier to immigrate, that means that we have a say then telling people who try to immigrate in a time of increased difficulty is weird. But my main focus here is that immigration is a deeply moral issue, one at the heart of America.
First of all, it is way too difficult for normal people to get here, either in the normal legal process and as a refugee. This American Life and a number of other programs have done great pieces on how legitimately difficult it is to get to this country legally, even if you're a refugee or someone who has directly helped our army (like translators). The process is arduous, and especially in the case of refugees or people who are in danger, that process can simply be too long. This is not really something that's up for debate, as people on both sides of the political spectrum have acknowledged this, though it's odd that in spite of that acknowledgement, little has been done.
The fact of the matter is, America has always prided itself on being a nation of immigrants, and we've always treated immigrants pretty shittily. Immigrants are good for us economically, culturally, and morally, and that applies for both legal and illegal immigrants. So there's always been this conflict between wanting to accept our shared heritage of immigration, while constantly also trying to argue against immigrants and put unfair doubt upon them.
This means that we, as a people, have to decide whether or not we want to be a moral nation, that is dedicated to taking in those who, if we were in their shoes, we'd absolutely want to be let in as an act of kindness and humanity. We need to make a decision to live by the ideals written under the Statue of Liberty, or we need to choose to simply decide we aren't that nation. My problem doesn't necessarily lie in the fact our attitude to immigrants is disgusting, but it's the two faced way we both treat them as our backbone while spurning them whenever anything goes wrong in this country.
Regardless of the legality of the immigrant, when we let in someone who is genuinely seeking a better life in our country, we are standing by our message, and we are acting upon our best traits as humans: sympathy, empathy, and compassion. We can choose as a nation to stick by those ideals, or we can choose to knowingly let those people suffer in the hopes that we may somehow prevent economic competition (which we in America are supposed to like) or terrorism (even though, if we're being honest with ourselves, most terrorists are homegrown, and they tend to be white people acting negatively towards those various immigrant groups or other minorities) in spite of the fact that by and large, terrorism kills less people than most things.
That's why immigration is important to me, not for its profound economic and cultural benefits, but because it is a battle that defines our nation. We cannot continue to say one thing while doing another, and while I may not like the choice we make, we must make a choice. And if we do decide we want to live in fear of our greatest asset, how about we send Lady Liberty back to France with a lightly used sign on it.