What We Are Missing In the Immigration Debate
The idea that Trump’s proposed southern border wall for the United States is a waste of time and resources is not new. Many experts have pointed out repeatedly of its ineffectual and costly nature. Even the Charles Koch-founded, libertarian Cato Institute published pieces decrying the need for the wall. So why does it seem to be one of the only issues that the President of the United States can speak emphatically of?
The policy (if one can even give it this status) is a distraction in more ways than one. Firstly, it facilitated President Trump’s election, as the wall was one of his foremost campaign promises. If he is able to deliver the promise of a wall in any form, his supporters will have reason to stand by him, and he would presumably be more likely to get reelected in 2020. However, the reason that Trump used this barrier as a campaign promise was not simply to cater to the xenophobic — the wall is Trump’s answer to the economic problems of today’s Americans.
Whether or not Trump truly wants to keep foreigners out due to bigoted reasons is irrelevant to the real, concrete momentum of the public, fear-based movement behind the wall. Trump and his supporters in the government have aptly created a demagogic answer to these fears in the form of a literal barrier. The root of American fears today are largely (and justly) economic, and who better to blame than immigrants for these problems? According to Trump, “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
As many in power have done before, Trump and his neoconservative army are relying on an effectively voiceless group in order to quell the concerns of an increasingly frustrated populous. The manufactured crisis led to the shutdown of the government over a failure to secure around $5 billion to further militarize the border and build the wall. However, conceding any amount of merit to the rhetoric surrounding immigration has even more nefarious implications than government impasses. When we start labeling people in this way, whether we call them animals, aliens, or illegals, we are guilty of a crime far greater than any that those who enter “illegally” have committed. This type of thinking can and will only lead to atrocities like the family separation policy, which led to the detainment and isolation of almost 2,000 children last spring. Our discourse on immigration, which often fails to acknowledge immigrants' humanity, is eroding any semblance of a government based on the moral principles we were supposedly founded upon. As Trump himself claimed regarding immigration in his recent State of the Union speech, “This is a moral issue.” A moral issue it certainly is, but we are failing to act ethically in addressing it.
The point is, we shouldn’t have to bring up the ideas that border enforcement doesn’t work, that immigrants have a lower crime rate than natives, that crime is lower on the border than in other areas of the country, that most undocumented immigrants are created via visa overstays rather than illegal entry on the southern border, that most drugs come from legal ports of entry, that immigrants actually promote economic growth, that immigrants like those in the migrant caravan from Central America have a legal right to seek asylum — or the litany of other reasons demonstrating why immigration is not the crisis it is made out to be.
We should be talking about how these are people seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families, as all American families have done in the past. If we want to find a way to reduce the amount of undocumented people in the U.S., we need to make the pathway to legal status one that is not only feasible, but also empathetic to the plight of the immigrant. We need to stop discussing immigration as if it is something that can be banned. We need to realize that funding requests for border security are a farce designed to create a rally effect for politicians who do not want to take relevant action regarding the problems we face today. If we are to claim that we live in a democracy, we should look like the type of society that cares fundamentally about people, and not their exclusion.