April 2, 2016

We Need More Reason in the Debate Over Immigration

May Day Immigration March LA37Of all the political issues I can think of, the one where I am probably the closest to deserving to be characterized as a "moderate" or a "centrist" might be immigration. I think that some aspects of both the current Republican and Democratic plans have merit but that both also have some serious flaws. In fact, I have a hard time thinking that it would make sense to adopt either of them without some major modifications. This is an example of why it would be helpful to have more reason in our politics. If we did, we'd be in a better position to discuss complex issues and benefit from effective compromise.

It seems to me that the Republicans have a valid point about border security. It strikes me as obvious that knowing who is entering our country is in our national security interest. Open borders pose a security risk in much the same way you leaving your front door unlocked when you are out of town would be risky. Without a secure border, it is not possible to track who is coming in. Even if we were to decide that we wanted to let many more people in, we cannot possibly be aware of who is entering unless we do a much better job of securing the border.

I don't think that having a guest worker program, as many Republicans suggest, is necessarily a bad idea. It would recognize how important immigrants are to our economy while at the same time allowing us to maintain some control over the flow of entering immigrants and what they were doing while they were here. Even if it was not the best long-term solution, it seems like it could be an effective starting point.

I also think that the Republicans have a point to make about the rule of law. If someone enters the country illegally and is caught, I'm not sure why we wouldn't prosecute and/or deport him or her. If we don't want to do this, we need to change the law and not just pretend it isn't there. If we broadcast that we are no longer prosecuting or deporting persons who enter illegally, we cannot exactly blame them when they enter. It amounts to rolling out a welcome mat. Deciding we want to do that is one thing, but this needs to be an intentional decision.

At the same time, it is difficult to imagine that Mexico is going to pay for Donald Trump's wall or that U.S. taxpayers will be excited about doing so. It is even harder to imagine that the rest of the country will stand idly by while Trump rounds up and deports all the immigrants who entered illegally and denies entry to Muslims or as Ted Cruz begins patrolling neighborhoods based on their ethnic and/or religious composition. These ideas seem absurd, difficult to reconcile with what many of us want to believe about ourselves, and would likely create far more problems than they solve.

On the Democratic side, having a viable path to citizenship (what the Republicans insist on calling "amnesty") seems like a no-brainer. Nobody likes the idea of families being torn apart by selective deportation. There is probably some subset of persons who have entered illegally over the years who could be forgiven and granted citizenship by going through some process. The real argument to be had here ought to involve what the process looks like and how selective it should be instead of whether there should be some path to citizenship.

I also think the Democrats are right about the valuable role immigrants play in the history and identity of our country, as well as our current economy. It seems clear that many immigrants are making vital contributions to our economy, and it is difficult to imagine some sectors being able to function adequately without them. Rounding them up and driving them out would hurt us as much as it would hurt them.

And yet, some aspects of the Democratic plan seem hopelessly naive. From what I understand, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have adopted the position that nobody who enters the country illegally will be deported unless they have been convicted of a violent crime. Both seem determined to implement this as soon as possible, even without significant improvements in border security. If we don't know who everyone wanting to enter the country is, we aren't going to be able to make any informed decisions about who gets in. Is the plan to let anyone in who wants to come and just hope it works out? If we aren't going to deport anyone, we may end up with far more people coming in. If we don't know who they are, this seems risky.

It seems to me that both of the two major parties have some good ideas (and some bad ones) on the topic of immigration. The downside of admitting to this line of thinking is that it seems to guarantee one will be attacked by both sides. The right will continue to call me a bleeding-heart liberal SJW, and the left will continue to call me a racist shitlord. It doesn't seem to matter that I'm saying I agree with some aspects of what both sides want; they prefer to focus on the points of disagreement and the fact that I've rejected too much of their ideologically-driven narratives to be a good person. This makes the sort of reasonable discussion and compromise we need fairly difficult.
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