Christopher Columbus bumped into North America in 1492, an accident of history. The path to Asia sailing east was well known to Europeans back then, but Chris was looking for a path to Asia by sailing west. His bumping into the land mass that would become Canada, Mexico, and the United States started the first great wave of European colonization of the New World. I am personally grateful for this wave of colonization, but I am also aware that the native North Americans who happened to be in the way were treated with casual indifference, at best.

My family’s ancestors came to North America in the 1690s. European mutts is the best way to describe us now; a mix of Britain, Germany, France, Nordic countries, and touches of Africa and eastern Europe. Why my ancestors came here I cannot know for sure, but I am pretty darn sure they came to seek a better life than what was available in Europe in the 1690s.

Try to imagine such a mindset. You are a peasant, commoner, or laborer on the outskirts of Stockholm, or London, or Amsterdam. You have no money, no land, and no connections. You decide it is better to put yourself and your family on a tiny wooden boat, powered by nothing more than the wind, onto a course to the New World, because there you at least have a chance to do better when you get there.

This is risk-taking and optimism, writ large. This is what it means to grab onto hope, and to pursue the right of happiness. This is what it means to be an American.

This pattern of immigration to our shores kept going. For the whole of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th, open-borders immigration was the rule. Ellis Island accepted millions of mostly European immigrants, with few questions asked, and the questions that were asked were health-related. These folks were also commoners and laborers, folks of dim prospects. Riff-raff, as it were. But not here. This was the era when America accepted, even invited, the “poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Open borders is no longer a viable policy, and let me make it abundantly clear, this liberal does not support an open borders policy. What this liberal does support is a rational, evidence-based immigration system based on current needs and circumstances. Maybe a guest worker program to make sure our crops are picked on time, and a tech-worker program to make sure America gets the pick of the litter for Silicon Valley. This stuff is hard, and I have no ready answers. But there has been no meaningful immigration reform on a national level since President Reagan granted amnesty to 3 million undocumented illegal immigrants in 1986. Maybe the Congress-critters now making noise in DC can be persuaded to do their job and, you know, legislate?

The pattern of immigration to America continues to this day, whether Congress does its job or not. The poor huddled masses in Honduras, Guatemala, or wherever still yearn to breathe free. And their yearning breaths make them look to, and walk toward, America. They ain’t walking to China, or Russia, or anywhere else. They are coming to America to have a shot at a better life. The ancestors of every man, woman, and child now living in America who is not native to North America did the exact same thing. We immigrants and immigrant descendants have no birthright here, what we have is a generous gift to be judiciously shared and widely celebrated.

Darrell M. Allen is a retired employment and criminal defense attorney. He lives with two nice Republican ladies north of I-40, where they run two head each of dog and cat.