SLOAN: We need a more rational response to immigration

Author: Kelly Sloan - January 18, 2018 - Updated: January 18, 2018

Kelly Sloan

A legislative compromise on immigration is again in the works, and is, again, facing potential unravelling, following a week that began with a dubious legal decision and ended with altogether unhelpful comments made by the president.

Immigration is a delicate issue, one which lends itself to tendentious pooling at the extremes. It is as true to say that there are those for whom merely raising the salient points in favor of tightening immigration laws and border controls is tantamount to racism, as it is to say that there are those for whom such reasonable concerns and arguments serve as cover for unchecked xenophobic tendencies.

There are entirely legitimate questions to be asked, which transcend purely nativist inclinations, concerning issues such as illegal immigration, security of the frontiers, and just how much immigration on an annual basis the national melting pot can absorb before assimilation can catch up.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, (DACA) ought to be acceptable ground on which to find compromise and communion. Assimilation is not an issue; the fact of the program’s intended beneficiaries being already acculturated to American mores serves as the prime motivation for its existence. The program also appeals to the Western juridical principle that the progeny ought not be accountable for the sins of the father (or mother, as it were). Such accommodations must be narrowly structured, of course, and in a way that minimizes incentivization of law-breaking by parents seeking amnesty for their children. But once done, and if accompanied by corresponding reforms such as replacing chain migration and the ludicrous lottery system with a merit-based one, it is a reasonable and warranted solution.

It is also a solution which needs to be done properly – through the legislative process, which, for all its faults, is far better equipped to navigate the complexities inherent in such an issue than a reflexive Executive Order crafted in exasperation or impatience. Whatever his motivation for doing so, and however sympathetic that particular illegal immigrant population, President Obama’s enactment of DACA through executive fiat was unlawful and unconstitutional. Thus, whatever his motivation for doing so, President Trump’s revocation of the program and subsequent referral to Congress was the correct thing to do.

On January 9, a federal judge in (where else?) San Francisco disagreed; ordering, in a ruling long on rhetorical pugilism but short on legal reasoning, that the Trump Administration must continue the DACA program. The legal shortcomings of the decision are numerous, contemptuous of both the Constitution and the rule of law, but will, in due course, be overturned by a higher court, as others of this particular judge’s rulings have been. The more acute damage may be to the securing of a permanent, legal establishment of DACA-friendly reforms. One welcome consequence of Trump’s annulment of the program was to effect motivation within Congress to do their job and address the issue as it should be addressed. It remains to be seen how much the ruling, however temporary, will act as a brake on that motivation, but there is no question that it has served to distract legislative minds from being sharply focused on a solution.

Trump did no favors to the overall immigration debate by allegedly making exceedingly thoughtless comments consigning certain nations — and by implication their populations — to the status of s***hole. Beyond the lamentable break with Presidential decorum, a habit regularly practiced, if not exclusive to, the sitting commander-in-chief, the vulgarity betrays a disturbing misunderstanding of both the principles delineating proper immigration policy, and those framing Western, Christian, and particularly American thought, which holds that the individual has inherent value, on which basis alone he or she ought to be considered. For the purposes of immigration, for instance, would not an engineer or accomplished graduate student from sub-Saharan Africa be preferable for admission to the U.S. to a high school dropout with few skills and a drug dependency from Norway?

Civilized minds can confer on the hard issues; for instance, whether immigration, legal and illegal, exceeds levels consistent with the nation’s ability to absorb it. And most critically, how to enhance security on our borders in ways more realistic, feasible, and morally tolerable than the Bolshevik solution of erecting a Berlin Wall across thousands of miles of variably porous border. And of course, how to reconcile the philanthropic desire to welcome the world’s despondent with the need to ensure those welcomed are not intent on blowing up Ellis Island on their way through.

These are serious concerns which are not well served by vulgarities or reductionist statements from either side.

The question on the table then is this: can rational, intelligent reforms to regulate immigration bear up against both excessively nativist impulses on the one hand, and the anarchic inclination against the very existence of national borders on the other?

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.