Nik Wallenda had no sooner completed his astonishing 1,800-foot high-wire crossing of Niagara Falls on Friday night than he was greeted by Canadian officials demanding to see his passport.
It was a made-for-TV moment as the daredevil calmly freed the document from its watertight wrapping and presented it for inspection. But the reminder that national borders really do still exist was timely nevertheless, having come just hours after President Obama had decided that they don't.
Whether the president's decision to suspend the deportation of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children represents good public policy or even good politics is beside the point. In a supposed nation of laws, no one – not even the president – has the authority to do as he or she pleases.
At least that's what Obama himself said last year, when he defended himself from criticism of having moved too slowly on immigration reform by insisting that “it's just not true” that he could change immigration laws unilaterally.
But that was then. This is now: The economic “recovery” is slowing, Obama's polls are slipping and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – a leading contender to be Republican Mitt Romney's running mate in November – was reportedly ready to propose legislation similar to the president's decree.
Thus, the TV pundits assured us over the weekend, Obama has solidified his already formidable lead over Romney among Hispanics, which a Pew Research Center Poll last week put at 67 percent to 21 percent. And Romney, who in the past has been branded by opponents as “anti-Hispanic” because of his reluctance to ignore laws he as president would have sworn to uphold – has been reluctant to respond one way or another.
So is this what America has become: a place in which borders – acknowledged as legitimate by every nation on Earth – are now deemed irrelevant or inhuman?
As Wallenda proved and my own experience has reinforced, even the Canadians know better than that. When I pass through customs coming back from a fishing trip, I know I'd better not get caught with Cuban cigars or too many of the wrong kind of fish.
But in the United States, the presence of 15 million or so illegal immigrants is deemed not so much a problem as an opportunity for pandering politicians looking for votes and unscrupulous employers looking for cheap labor at Americans' expense.
Calling the 800,000 or so young illegal immigrants spared from the threat of deportation “Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” the president would have us forget the obvious fact that believing yourself to be an American is not the same thing as actually being one.
That requires citizenship. Which requires, well, a paper.
I get it: This is a nation of immigrants. But until recent years the United States has been mostly a nation of legal immigration. Even today, people from all over the world seek and wait for legal citizenship in which they commit themselves not only to learn their adopted country's history and language but also pledge it their loyalty.
The president has just made them all look like saps.
I don't blame people who come to the United States looking for a better life. That's what all immigrants do. I don't even blame those who enter illegally. I do, however, blame officials, special-interest groups and others willing to trade America's sovereignty and national security for personal or political gain – especially those who imply that enforcement of immigration laws is somehow racist because certain ethnic groups are disproportionately affected.
Too bad Hitler didn't demand such understanding during Germany's quest for “lebensraum.” No one would have dared call its illicit crossing of borders anything as inflammatory as “World War II.”
If politicians now feel compelled to overlook illegal behavior or, worse, usurp the authority to justify it, this nation will very quickly become a place that will repel immigrants, not attract them.
There is, in fact, much to like about what Rubio may propose, and Obama did. But because noble ends seldom justify illicit means, such a dramatic shift in policy should come as the result of a national consensus and thoughtful legislation, not political desperation.
Such a deliberate approach does not always produce fast results, sensational headlines or votes for the “right” official. That's precisely why it is worth protecting – for the benefit of citizens and immigrants alike.