The Difference Between Legal and Illegal Immigrants Is Simpler Than the L.A. Times's Rosa Brooks Realizes

Rosa Brooks of the L.A. Times writes in praise of immigrants, comparing them favorably to Americans, whom she labels “fat, decadent and getting dumber all the time.” By contrast, she says: “Immigrants put us to shame. They’re healthier, stronger, thriftier and braver.”

Plenty of Americans don’t fit Brooks’s dismissive description of Americans as “fat, decadent and getting dumber all the time.” Brooks might have to walk outside the confines of the Los Angeles Times building to find them — but they’re out there.

But I didn’t write this post just to take cheap shots at the L.A. Times. My beef is this: Brooks doesn’t bother to distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants — except in one respect . . . to praise the courage of illegal immigrants:

[W]hen it comes to illegal immigrants, just getting here takes astounding courage. Illegal immigrants endure astonishing privation and risk — just for the chance to improve their lot by doing the backbreaking work so few native-born Americans have the inclination to do. While we demand McMansions, they share cramped apartments. We’re up to our ears in consumer debt; they save almost every dollar to send to their less-well-off relatives.

The younger generation of illegal immigrants is particularly impressive.

There’s some truth to her praise for the pluck of immigrants — including illegal immigrants, many of whom are simply coming to this country to make a better life for their families.

But there is another difference between legal and illegal immigrants, and it’s pretty basic: one group is legal; the other is not. One group has followed a tortuous legal process to become citizens; the other has not.

I don’t know how many of you have attended a naturalization ceremony, in which immigrants who have chosen to follow the legal path to citizenship finally arrive at their goal. I was fortunate enough to attend such an event in 1996, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. I was clerking for a federal judge at the time, and he addressed thousands of new citizens that day. You could see the pride on their faces as they recited the Oath of Citizenship (.doc file), renouncing allegiance to all other countries:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or a citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

It was a moving experience that I will never forget. The scene was very much like this photo from another such ceremony:


New citizens generally must demonstrate their good moral character and a knowledge of English and civics. They must live in the United States for specified periods of time without leaving the country for 6 months or more. They must attend interviews, take tests, fill out forms, and pay fees. You can read all about it in a large .pdf file called A Guide to Citizenship.

Amazingly, people still engage in this process, by the thousands.

Amazingly, many people actually respect the law.

The difference between legal and illegal immigrants lies not in their measure of courage, but in the depth of their respect for the laws of the United States. This is not a meaningless distinction, and Rosa Brooks — and all the other people trying to push amnesty for illegal immigrants — ought to recognize this.

[Patterico blogs at and can be reached at patterico -AT- gmail -DOT- com.]