I make it no secret that my views on immigration tend to be more progressive, as evidenced by my strong support for loosening restrictions on non-immigrant visas. Much of the pre and post-election discourse on immigration, of course, has largely revolved around the phenomenon of illegal immigration— that is, immigrants in the U.S. neither on a visa nor a green card.
Naturally, I believe that we have an illegal immigration problem precisely because our legal immigration outlets (inlets?) are so restrictive. You would think that a comprehensive immigration policy should consider both hand-in-hand, yet the rhetoric in the public arena seems to suggest otherwise. It’s why I don’t care for Trump’s talk for a border wall nor his desire to gut the H1-B.
The problem in conservative circles is that anti-immigration sentiment is not argued consistently from a logical standpoint. Those opposed to illegal immigration go the “rule of law” route, arguing that migrants are inherently criminals, by virtue of their defiance of living in the country sans proper authorization. But when sensible measures to expand legal authorization opportunities are considered, then arguments shift to a more protectionist standpoint.
A purely ideological opposition to immigration would indeed be protectionist and nationalistic in nature. It’s a result of a semi-resurgence in paleoconservative ideals— the notion that American policies should be protective of the interests of the homeland and those native to it. Being that I’m not a huge nationalist to begin with, I think there’s some folly in advancing a purely paleoconservative agenda for a country that is highly developed, highly globalized, and highly rooted in its “nation of immigrants” identity.
I’m cognizant of the fact that many in America don’t share that view that America is a “nation of immigrants.” To them, the distinctive American identity perhaps rests in individualism, or the Heartland, or industry. Whatever it is, the concept of foreign nationals flooding our borders is, in a sense, threatening. Not just from a national security standpoint, but also from a ‘way of life’ standpoint.
I can’t write these fears off as irrational because they are indeed legitimate, even if they may not be entirely pragmatic. The forces at work are the same ones responsible for anti-growth NIMBYism in localized politics, which is why many of the transit opponents I battled in my college days also happened to be political conservatives. Yet they justified their viewpoints not so much for fiscal reasons, as one would think, but for reasons much more akin to nostalgia and reminiscence.
The New York Times published an expose on female Trump supporters, hoping to give the world some anecdotal accounts on how the narrative that Trump was anti-woman could possibly be thwarted by the 53% of white women who voted for him. I found some interesting tidbits in there on immigration:
The first one, from a Ms. Gregory:
I’m seeing a barrage of patients coming in from different countries. An Iraqi immigrant came in last night, he needs dialysis. He will never be productive in the U.S., he will always be dependent on Medicaid. I feel for him, I want to help him, but we have to take care of our own people first. Driving to work yesterday, I saw three homeless people. They need our help.
I can appreciate Ms. Gregory’s compassion for the Iraqi immigrant, but her conclusions about his utility as a worker are presumptive. Is he useless as a worker because of his dialysis or because he is an Iraqi immigrant? Or is it because he is on dialysis and just so happens to also be an immigrant? Her conflation of the two is troublesome because it can be inherently discriminatory.
In other words, is an American citizen on dialysis (and thus disability or welfare) of more value than an immigrant under the same conditions? If not, then the tidbit about being able to work is a mere red herring— it has nothing to do with how productive that person may or may not be. Furthermore, I would point out that it is a false dichotomy to proclaim mutual exclusivity between “taking care of our own” and helping immigrants.
Onto the second opinion, one from a Ms. Alighire:
I’m also concerned about immigration. I went to Minnesota and I had a Somali cabdriver who lectured me for 35 minutes to the airport about how women in America have too much freedom. My thought process on that is that I don’t like seeing people going through the hardship they go through, but I don’t want to go backwards in the feminist movement, either.
This opinion is interesting because it’s paleoconservative in nature but also highly unpragmatic. Firstly, note how Ms. Alighire’s sentiment toward immigrants is based on her experience with a Somali cabdriver and his views toward women. While it’s understandable why someone in the progressive Western world would balk at an Islamic fundamentalist viewpoint, note that Ms. Alighire is being reductionist in her conclusions on immigration as a general policy matter.
In other words, she is reducing the entire population of immigrants to one experience she had with a cabdriver. So then perhaps it is Muslim immigrants we should be wary about? I hope you notice the potential slippery slope there. If we ban Muslims in accordance with divergence from one particular value, then what can abate the unchecked labeling of other people groups who are in violation of other arbitrarily agreed-upon norms?
I think both Ms. Gregory and Ms. Alighire represent viewpoints that are not uncommon across America’s political landscapes. We can’t make a value judgment and say both women are wrong. But I think it’s important to have a logical foundation that undercuts the rhetoric. In both cases, ideology trumps pragmatism, which can be a dangerous pathway to take when developing public policy.
All in all, I hope people both on the left and on the right can steer clear of this folly. A sensible immigration policy is not possible apart from doing so and I fear that the next four years will consist of people talking soundly past each other. I care about immigrants but I also care about the way our language and discourse reflects who we are as a people. America has opportunity— the question is whether or not we will take advantage of it.