Thursday, March 4, 2021

To Find the Moral Center on Immigration, We Must Start by Telling the Truth

For more than four years, we've all been deluged with lies about immigration. So it should come as no surprise that, when Democrats propose comprehensive immigration reform, there are those who remain skeptical and fear that implementation would be the equivalent of "open borders." That is, however, no excuse for politicians and pundits on the left to repeat the lies and get it all wrong. 

While it's true that passing immigration reform in the current congress will be a major uphill battle, it is important to start with the truth. From there, Rep. Jamie Raskin's formula makes sense.

It’s not my ambition to be in the political centre, which blows around with the wind. It’s my ambition to be in the moral centre and that’s why I call myself a progressive because I think our job is to find what’s right, the best that we can, and then bring the political centre to us.

So let's start with some truth about immigration. The first lie that needs to be addressed is the one about what is/isn't happening on our southern border. Here is an overview of the immigrant population in America.

Overall, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has been declining. Mexicans are no longer a majority, with most having lived in this country for more than 10 years.

That's why it's now time to provide a pathway to citizenship for those who have been living in this country for more than a decade. As I've explained previously, that isn't just good for them, it would be a great boost to our economy. 

A focus on securing our southern border completely misses what's actually happening with undocumented immigrants. A report by the Center for Migration Studies of New York found that "from 2016-2017, people who overstayed their visas accounted for 62 percent of the newly undocumented, while 38 percent had crossed a border illegally."

"It is clear from our research that persons who overstay their visas add to the US undocumented population at a higher rate than border crossers. This is not a blip, but a trend which has become the norm," said Donald Kerwin, CMS' executive director, in a statement. "...

"We have made tremendous progress since the year 2000 in reducing undocumented immigration into this country," the study's author, CMS senior fellow Robert Warren, told NPR...He said that both the Bush and Obama administrations had roughly doubled the size of the Border Patrol and that the country has seen results.

"In another era, we would be celebrating our success," said Warren.

Biden had a front row seat to witness that emphasis on securing the border. He knows that, other than some technological upgrades to those efforts, we've "been there...done that." It's now time to move on to address the issues at hand. 

The 30%+ of immigrants who enter the U.S. across the southern border are no longer coming simply because America is "a desirable destination. " Instead, they are asylum-seekers attempting to escape violence and corruption in countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. As such, they don't tend to disappear into the shadows as undocumented immigrants, but seek to present their case to U.S. authorities. 

Comprehensive immigration reform, as presented by Democrats, is aimed at developing a humane system for dealing with asylum-seekers, while working with their countries of origin to deal with the issues from which they are fleeing. In other words, this is not something that can be addressed by yet more investment in securing the border. 

Finally, the bill being proposed by Democrats also makes some changes to our legal immigration system. For the most part, they are meant to ban the kind of draconian measures implemented by the Trump administration. While it's true that the U.S. must place limits on the number of immigrants admitted to this country, we must ensure that the system is not being driven by xenophobia. That is precisely what it means to find the "moral center."

The Biden administration entered office with an awful lot on their plates. It is clear that dealing with the pandemic and its economic impact is job number one. As the GOP focuses all of their attention on suppressing the vote, election reform (as proposed in the For the People Act) has also risen to the top of the priority list. But it is also clear that during Trump's presidency, our immigration system—which was already broken—was turned into something that is both cruel and inhumane. It would be unconscionable for Democrats to ignore that. To claim the moral center, we must jettison the lies and provide the American people with the truth. 


  1. Agree entirely. We have already invested in their education, why waste that investment?

  2. Another eloquent post, truly seeking truth telling and both the politically appealing and moral center. Speaking of which, the Washington Monthly opened its blog today with precisely the lying and the offense against the inhumane you decry, especially the first. The post just repeated that the Democratic stance on immigration is open borders, so it has to do better. You're well rid of them.

    1. Couldn't agree more with everything you say.

  3. For years, the Republican response to many progressive plans has been blind opposition because it's, well, something about 'The Other.' White Americans fall prey to these R fear-based arguments and as such become the de facto opposition, knowing not much about the true situations. My own arguments have centered around 'just how many doctors, scientists, economists, business leaders and fellow citizens and neighbors are of foreign birth'? People come to this country with expectations of a better, safer life; and for most of them, they find it here. It is time to make them 'whole' citizens who are full partners in their own (and our) futures. Can't agree more with Nancy; the current opposition to immigration reform is based simply on a refusal to open up the promises of American to people.

  4. Very good writeup, if only this was the quality of most of what passes for blogging these days, the level of discourse in the US would be much better.

    I think there are two reasons why this kind of truth telling is lacking. The first one, as so clearly championed by Trump, Miller, et al, is bigotry. It's easy to mobilize people when you point at someone and say" "whatever problem you have is the fault of these other people that look and sound different from you so let's get rid of those already here and stop more from coming". The second one is simplicity in the message. As you've so eloquently shown, truth has nuance to it, and thus it doesn't lend itself to the short bumper sticker approach that many (almost entirely on the right) prefer for solutions. For many, it's better to have a one liner simple to understand "solution" even if it does nothing to address the actual problem, than to have an actual solution that takes more than 5 seconds to explain.

    In this instance, step one for the Biden administration and Dems in general should be to clarify that what many think is the problem actually isn't a big issue, and that the go to solutions solutions so far (focus on the border, wall building, etc), don't actually do anything to address either the imaginary nor the real problem.

  5. "Instead, they are asylum-seekers attempting to escape violence and corruption in countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador."

    Don't forget climate change. That's going to turn the trickle into a deluge over the next few years, both here and over at your side of the Atlantic. Unless we get our collective thumbs out of our collective arses.


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