Earlier this month was the birthday of Ayn Rand, the controversial philosopher and novelist, who emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1926. Regardless of what one thinks of her ideas, there is no denying that she was a great American. When the American intelligentsia was playing footsie with Soviet communism, Rand unabashedly defended liberty and individual rights, America’s core values, famously declaring: “[The] United States of America is the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world.”
But this proud naturalized American, who arguably did more than any contemporary figure to restore the faith of Americans in America, might have been hounded out of the country if one of our current crop of Republican hopefuls had been president when she arrived. Why? Because Rand lied and bent every rule to gain entry into the United States.
As a vehement anti-Bolshevist, she knew that she would die waiting in line if she applied for permission to permanently relocate to America, although that’s exactly what she intended to do. Temporary tourist visas were easier to land, but only for those who could prove they didn’t plan to settle here. So what did Rand do? She committed perjury. She convinced an American visa officer that she had a fiancé waiting for her in Russia whom she intended to marry after a six-month visit with her relatives in Chicago.
But Rand instead married an American citizen in 1929, gaining a path to citizenship. According to Mimi Gladstein’s biography, Rand timed her wedding before her visa, which she had gotten extended, finally expired.
However, others doubt that Uncle Sam would have handed a three-year extension to a Russian passport holder, raising suspicions that Rand might have been—gasp!—an illegal immigrant when she got married.
Either way, in a morally healthy universe, this would be regarded as pretty minor stuff, the equivalent of someone speeding on a highway to reach an emergency room. But today we live in a world where a small band of immigration restrictionists have acquired an air of legitimacy by loudly repeating their views. They have created a false moral equivalence between serious criminals and petty visa violators. They wield words such as “illegal” and “law breaker” like assault weapons. They deploy an arsenal of tropes (such as “What part of illegal don’t you understand?”) to quash rational immigration reform. And they have turned “amnesty,” which Ronald Reagan proudly embraced, into a four-letter word that conservative presidential contenders shun. (Congratulations, Rush Limbaugh.)
CONTINUED at Reason. Written by Shikha Dalmia.