land of opportunity
Image Source: thefederalistpapers.org

The Declaration of Independence, that famous document in which the American colonists announced their separation from Great Britain, is considered to be one of the most influential documents in history. It has inspired similar declarations in countries all over the world, including Hungary, Costa Rica and New Zealand.

The American Revolution sparked a democratic age; other countries began to follow the United States in rebelling against their governments or in reforming them.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that humans are endowed with natural rights. We are all born free and have the right to live free of oppression. The Declaration states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These rights are granted to citizens of the United States. They are natural, inherent rights of all people. They are universal. They are unalienable.

These are pretty ideals, or would be if they were upheld.

America is hailed as a land of opportunity, but is it? How many of us know the struggle of trying to obtain a green card? How many of us know what it is like to wait for years to come to this country and even longer for our families to join us? How many of us recoil in rage every time a politician is cheered for vowing to further restrict immigration and to take action against undocumented immigrants?

Where are those “unalienable rights”? Or does the Declaration mean that these rights are “unalienable” unless you’re an alien?  There are restrictions on those permitted to pursue a happy life. There are quotas in place to prevent too many people from entering America.

Yet, it’s all a matter of timing. The Puritans who formed the first colonies in America were not granted visas. They were not obligated to have jobs or to be married to American citizens in order to obtain permanent residence. No, for them it was enough to simply show up.

Several of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were immigrants themselves. Were they subjected to a screening process in order to emigrate? Were they forced to wait for years to leave their native lands in order to make better lives for themselves? Were they so desperate to enter America that they had no choice but to illegally cross the border risking death or arrest?  Under today’s immigration laws, these people would be considered “illegal immigrants”.

There are many arguments for why immigration laws should be strict, but the rights of a government should not be more important than the rights of people. National borders are nothing more than lines on a map. Are these imaginary lines more important than the lives of real people?

If “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are truly unalienable rights, then people have the right to pursue that life wherever they choose.