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Citizenship & Immigration

The Claremont Institute, Posted March 12, 2007,

The Founders on Citizenship and Immigration: Principles and Challenges in America (by Edward J. Erler, John Marini, and Thomas G. West; published February 2007) is a volume in the Claremont Institute's series on Statesmanship and Political Philosophy. The series attempts to address issues of contemporary importance in terms of America's founding principles, a kind of resort to first principles. The underlying premise of the series is a belief in the continuing vitality of the founding principles.

In the Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison remarked that "he wished to maintain the character of liberality which had been professed in all the Constitutions & publications of America. He wished to invite foreigners of merit & republican principles among us. America," he concluded, "was indebted to emigration for her settlement & Prosperity." It was clearly understood by Madison and the rest of the framers that control over immigration was a matter of sovereign prerogative and that regime principles should dictate the prudential decisions as to the kind of immigrants—if any—that would benefit the regime.

Those of "merit" would, of course, be most useful to the country and a vital component of their merit would be attachment to republican principles and the capacity to live an active life in accordance with those principles. The current debate about immigration is vitiated by the fact that our policymakers no longer believe that there are regime principles or that questions of merit and character have anything to do with immigration.

Ever since the Progressives advocated racially based immigration policies—claiming to have discovered scientifically provable superiorities and inferiorities among races—any attempt to introduce the issue of character or merit into the immigration debate has been dismissed as racist. The Progressives were wrong in their advocacy of race-based policies and their theories have been discredited. But the Progressive legacy lives on, making genuine debate about immigration issues almost impossible. The issue of the character of potential citizens is not a racial issue; it is a regime issue.

Character—the capacity to live a life befitting republican citizens—is, as Madison indicated, crucial to the debate about immigration. This volume seeks to revive the issue of republican character in the current immigration debate and to elucidate the constitutional foundations of American citizenship.

Edward J. Erler
Series Editor

Edward J. Erler is professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute.

The Founders on Citizenship and Immigration: Principles and Challenges in America
(Order here)

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