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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Contributing columnist Brik McDill.

Our immigration "problem?" We are a blessed and fortunate country. America is the most ethnically blended country in the world. And compared to others, the most harmoniously so. We are composed of hundreds of nationalities and spoken and written languages.

But unlike us, other countries have a sense of their basic national citizen: Germany has Germans, France has its French, Italy its Italians, the Netherlands its Dutch, and so on. All other countries' citizens feel it natural, by birth or origins, to feel natively of that country's nationality, and foreign immigrants once naturalized -- if ever naturalized -- do not identify themselves as of that nationality. A foreign immigrant to Sweden when naturalized as a citizen becomes neither Swedish nor a Swede, nor does a Swahili emigrating to China become Chinese, nor a Saudi moving to Finland become Finnish. America's different. Once naturalized everyone boasts proudly of being "American."

That's the beauty of America. And has been once we became "We the people...." Before then we were a collection of disconnected sovereign states each acting as its own country with its residents holding onto their "born" nationality. And we were a mess. But we came together, each state giving up a bit of its sovereignty to form something bigger and better. We then rapidly became the wonder and powerhouse of the world.

How did we do it? Our borders were open for nearly three and one-half centuries to all comers: the restless and ambitious achievers, those stuck immovably where they were who wanted to spread their adventurous and entrepreneurial wings, those wanting to prove their worth and improve their prospects, those with ideas to implement and schemes to try, those gifted ones who believed in themselves and had something to give and to build; and countless others who wanted their say and their day and to take their chances in America.

Long story short. We stand now as the university, scientific, engineering, economic, technological and military power of the world. Our universities are the best in the world and from within and without attract the best and the brightest faculties and students in the world. Our multinational companies by the hundreds have shot deep roots into every country. American English is the world language, the language of science, technology, of economics, banking, international travel, air traffic control. No mean achievements.

And, they didn't come by accident. They came by pure grit. If we can just understand how we came to be what we are, and not break things, we can move forward intelligently. In learning from what we successfully did, we can move forward continuing to do what has worked so well.

And what was the plan? There was none. It was just that our shores and doors hadn't closed and all were welcomed to come and give things a try. And come they did. Multitudes. And we prospered as no nation has ever. If you've been dealt a winning hand, why throw your strategy and best cards away! And what are those cards? Those who come in with big talent, big sacrifices, big ideas and big ambition. Those who come in wanting to serve and do the work others would rather not. Those who arrived looking to work hard enough to be called an American.

Immigration is our greatest strength. As long as they're law abiding let's find ways to let and keep people in. Let's not lock anyone out who can or already has contributed to our complex economy. As we confront questions of immigration let's come up with ways to include those we so clearly need in every part of our economy. Those who are here already can be guided along naturalization pathways appropriate to their situations. Those patiently biding their time waiting for their clearances can be guided along other less difficult lines. Let's not build walls, but gateways and pathways. Let's find the political will to find a way for those who against all odds found their way here. They deserve every consideration by their tireless toil they have so worthily earned.

[BTW: Side note from Game Theory on Rep. Kevin McCarthy's game: If you don't ever want to do something, let's say task "B" -- like tackle immigration reform, you simply set up impossible task "A" that has to be done first -- like "complete the fence and seal the borders". You put A before B. That way, since A is impossible, you never can get to B. Very clever.]

We can do so much better than we've done. A 2,000-mile fence? Really!? That's a logistical impossibility and is not the answer. In 20 or so years it will be nothing more than a crumbling, busted, rusted perpetual memorial. A monument to failed policy and utterly wasted multibillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of squandered man-hours of labor. We can put our money and men to far better use than fence building, border guarding, aerial patrolling, jail cells, virtual and actual high maintenance fencing.

What we've done so far, and continue doing, has been shown to be a voracious bottomless money pit. As the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development has repeatedly suggested, better north-south economic integration might be the more intelligent path to follow where commerce, businesses, ambition, skills and talent flow more easily, seamlessly and with greater efficiency in both directions. We're a creative people; surely we can put our brains to the task of how best to make use of the manpower already here and those risking everything (or leaving it all behind) to get in. Let's put our legendary American creativity to work...

Brik McDill, Ph.D. , is a community columnist whose work appears here every third Thursday. These are the opinions of McDill, not necessarily The Californian. Send email to him at