specifically: immigration across the U.S.'s southern border
THE DEBATE: part 1
The issue of immigration is emotionally fraught, and generally is guided less by logic. With stakes as high as livelihood, lives, and families, it is easy to be swayed by anecdotes and anger. However, as with any high stakes debate, the reality of the situation reveals complexities and nuances that can be easy to pass over. A consideration of the economy and net impact on the quality of lives shows that listening only to the emotional, immediate side of the debate will ultimately lead to more harm than good (Borjas).
It is human nature to want to channel our emotion towards someone or something. When we are angry, we want to direct our anger somewhere and ultimately pass it on to the thing/person that made us feel that way. This is true on the national scale as well, with many emotion infused social issues. This can be a good thing, when it motivates people to bring about positive change, but it can also be a bad thing, when the anger is unproductive or directed at the wrong thing or person (Nixon).
The president’s role is in many ways a symbolic one, as it is less about what they do and more about what they represent. They often wind up being scapegoats and taking the fall for issues that they did not create, though the flip side of that is that they get credit for positive situations that they did not create (Nixon). In the past year, immigration has become more of a hot button issue, and as it has entered the public sphere in a greater way, we have searched for people to blame for the hardship and lives affected. People have given praise and blame mostly to Trump and to ICE, so let’s look at if that makes sense.
tHE DEBATE: part 2
The issue that brought immigration to the forefront of national debate was Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy at the border. After stories were shared through news outlets and across social media, many looked for something or someone to direct the anger and outrage they felt at the heart wrenching images of young, innocent children separated from their families. A few democratic politicians chose to channel that outrage in the direction of ICE (Nixon). Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren are influential in federal politics, and have the power to control the narrative in that way.
Because of this, cries began to ring out for the abolition and de-funding of ICE in late June, as a response to the zero-tolerance policy. Besides the apparent connection that politicians like Gillibrand and Warren, who have a platform, drew between ICE and children being separated from their families, it’s not exactly clear how de-funding ICE is the most efficient way for a) preventing family separation at the border and b) reuniting young children with their families. Those are seemingly the biggest concerns of protestors. Abolishing ICE would not solve these problems, and instead the zero-tolerance enforcement would be unaffected (Nixon).
While ICE is not to blame for the execution of the zero-tolerance policy, it does relate to immigration. ICE, which stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was established as part of the government’s response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001 (Nixon). ICE was formed alongside Customs and Immigration and Citizenship Services as the expansion of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (Nixon). It is actually Customs and Border Protection that is responsible for patrolling, monitoring and securing the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, and so it is them that is responsible for separating children from their families (Nixon).
THE DEBATE: Part 3
It was the separation of illegally immigrated children from their parents that spurred this emotional outrage across social media in June, and it was Democratic establishment leadership that directed that energy towards the ICE program. It seems to be misdirected energy, and it is likely that the leadership took advantage of their power and exploited the people’s emotion to advance a mostly unrelated agenda. It quickly became a partisan issue, with people tying Trump’s name to the zero-tolerance policy, to ICE, and to the images of crying, parentless children (Domonoske).
So it is worth examining the policy under the Obama administration, to demonstrate that the issue has been faced before, and that there is no easy resolution. Under Obama, the policy was to put families in family detention centers while the case is being processed, rather than separating and detaining families, though detaining children separately was considered (Domonoske). After the outcry against separating children from their families, Trump effectively revived the family detention policy (Domonoske). It is an issue about motivation, deterrence, and punishment, not really about how to reunite children with their parents. The systemic problem is that it is simply illegal to cross the border without going through the immigration process. Yes, the United States’ immigration process is laborious and drawn out, but that is on purpose – the U.S.’s status on the world stage makes it a fairly attractive country to immigrate to, but the country’s labor market and economy can only handle so many people before it becomes unhealthy.
If people immigrate to the United States en masse, they are likely not to assimilate into the culture, but rather they develop communities to replicate their native country, and, instead of developing other skills, they don’t move up (Sanneh). If immigration levels are monitored, though, it seems that it does good for the economy and for the health of the country as a whole. The debate must address issues like why people want to move to the U.S., how easy it is to immigrate, why people are willing to sacrifice so much to be here, and the purpose of a border. Only considering the emotions of a recently separated family is a powerful motivator, but does not capture the many complexities of the debate.
THE DEBATE: Part 4 & Resources
As a consumer, I have not heard a compelling, cohesive message on what to do on immigration. Consumers hear the extremes because they are more interesting, more controversial, and therefore more “share-able” – either everyone should be let into the country OR all immigrants are worthless (Thompson). Neither is true, but it’s hard to find a reasonable alternative ideology. Immigration and other hot-button issues must be boring and painstaking to figure out. The challenge is how to make people care about things besides just preying on or exploiting our emotion-clouded judgment and short attention span.