Politics in the US gets tedious, but the ebb and flow of hype can sometimes actually produce changes in the real lives of our citizens. The issues in today’s headlines and memes tend to be mostly hot air from the partisan bickering between various ill-informed factions, but there is always some real issue, some core of fact, some relevant idea in there, like the grain of sand that spurs an oyster to create a pearl. Immigration is an ongoing, divisive, over-heated and emotional issue, which must be addressed, yet is all-too-often distorted by the warring parties. Every attempt each side makes to get their (usually very narrow) view accepted and acted on, ratchets up the level of invective and overkill. One exaggeration or deflection by one side begets a corresponding excess from the other sides, and the cycle repeats, ad nauseam.
President Obama’s Nov. 21st, 2014 announcement of an executive order on immigration policy is an excellent example of this principle at work. The reactions illustrate how ultra-partisan power plays and jingoism distort our political process. The most contentious element was his formalizing the intent to concentrate prosecutions on the most serious and dangerous cases, not prosecuting some other cases which could be inhumane to the defendants and/or their families. I noted in a Facebook post, that Ronald Reagan had acted on immigration in a similar manner in 1986, and got a lot of responses. Among them were a couple of well-reasoned and solidly-founded objections, condemning Obama’s action. That sent me to researching the topic, and I found that I still agree with Obama’s action, but now I am confident that it is not only best for the nation, but quite legal and proper.
It is true that in 1986 Reagan signed a bill, whereas Obama is using and executive order, but Obama is both upholding the spirit of legislation already passed, and faithfully choosing to concentrate limited prosecutorial resources on the most egregious and dangerous cases. On CNN’s State of the Union, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said “Shame on us as Republicans for having a body that cannot generate a solution to an issue that is national security, it’s cultural and it’s economic. The Senate has done this three times.” In other words, the Speaker of the House has stalled a bill the Senate passed, by refusing to bring it to the floor for debate and vote. Obama must therefore enforce existing law to the best of his ability. He has used an executive order to clarify his decisions about how he can best do so. That is the way real constitutional experts, and competent chief executives, do it.
Timothy Sandefur criticizes Obama here, yet also admits that “A president faced with limited resources who chooses to prosecute only the severest crimes the budget will allow, is faithfully taking care that the laws be executed.” Therefore, we see that Obama has merely FORMALIZED a policy which he is BOUND BY LAW to implement.
It is also noteworthy that the restrictions on immigration by present law are considered unconstitutional by strict constructionists, including many of those squawking about the President’s executive order. Until 1889, Congress did not have a general power to restrict immigration so Obama’s restraint in enforcing these laws makes good, conservative sense. I do not find that Obama’s recent action encourages that, but rather implements existing law in the best manner possible, until Congress gets off their duffs. Still… Haters gonna hate…
…and that’s how We The People get raped from behind. All the talking heads, making noise for a living, feed on hot-button issues like this, and work hard to keep the pot boiling. There actually is consensus on many elements of the debate, and there could be much more progress with much less bickering, if the pundits were not stirring the pot so violently that it splashes all over the stove. I understand the complaints against this executive order, perhaps better than some of those lodging them. I understand them well enough to see that they are groundless. I agree that we must not allow scofflaws to circumvent our laws nor disrespect legal immigrants. The general shape of immigration problems and policies has not changed much since the days of Teddy Roosevelt.
The United States is basically a nation of immigrants. Even the “Native Americans” who preceded the Western Europeans by many centuries probably migrated here. I have many friends who were born in other nations and moved here for various reasons. I married one, and she has since become a naturalized citizen. Some of my friends even came here illegally, because they saw no other way, and their situation was dire. I understand their reasons and sympathize with them. I will vote for reform of the laws, and improvement to the bureaucracy, and whatever leniency and accommodations are deemed fair and equitable by our electorate. I cannot, however, countenance the brazenly irresponsible calls I hear for blanket amnesty, nor the inane babblings about a “guest worker program” when we already have one. It’s called an H-1 visa. To simply call “king’s X” for all the current crop of illegal immigrants is to invite another wave of scoff-laws on their heels, and is an insult to my friends and relatives who went to the trouble of immigrating legally, many of whom have struggled for years to gain citizenship. I recently received an editorial which may illuminate this subject:
Recently large demonstrations have taken place across the [United States] protesting the fact that Congress is finally addressing the issue of illegal immigration. Certain people are angry that the US might protect its own borders, might make it harder to sneak into this country and, once here, to stay indefinitely. Let me see if I correctly understand the thinking behind these protests.
Let’s say I break into your house. Let’s say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave. But I say, “I’ve made all the beds and washed the dishes and did the laundry and swept the floors; I’ve done all the things you don’t like to do. I’m hard-working and honest (except for when I broke into your house).
According to the protesters, not only must you let me stay, you must add me to your family’s insurance plan, educate my kids, and provide other benefits to me and to my family (my husband will do your yard work because he too is hard-working and honest, except for that breaking in part). If you try to call the police or force me out, I will call my friends who will picket your house carrying signs that proclaim my right to be there.
It’s only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I’m just trying to better myself. I’m hard-working and honest, um, except for well, you know.
And what a deal it is for me!! I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of selfishness, prejudice and being an anti-housebreaker.
Oh yeah, and I want you to learn my language so you can communicate with me.
I enjoy learning languages and discovering cultures foreign to my own, but I find it selfish, lazy, and ego-centric of any immigrant to demand that government documents like ballots and tax forms be translated into languages other than English. The right to vote entails a responsibility to understand the issues, and demands the due diligence of becoming fluent in the language of broad public discourse in which those issues are framed.
If I went to France and complained about having to speak French, they would simply laugh at me. The same goes for almost any nation on earth except the United States. I believe that our fear of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ has led us to such excessive plurality that a ‘tyranny of the minorities’ is crippling us. At the same time, the lifeblood of this nation is a mix of many, constantly enriched by new influx from immigration, and we are helped more than hurt by the presence of legal “guest workers.”
We are ever more gridlocked by the many-headed-animal syndrome, giving veto power to parochial partisans simply because they have the chutzpah to brand themselves disenfranchised.
It is true that laziness and greed are rampant in modern America, particularly among those who ignore our own immigrant heritage. It is also true that our self-indulgence has been a factor in creating the immigration problems we face today, as well as our difficulties with the Middle East, drug trafficking, and human trafficking too. Criminalizing or legalizing more drugs, importing or outsourcing more subsidized labor (the working poor), punishing or tolerating polygamy or prostitution, and persecuting or pandering to immigrants will not save us. We need reasonable, well-considered, and balanced legislation and executive action, rather than swinging from maudlin permissiveness to draconian totalitarianism. We also need to remember that true solutions lie not in our fascist political-military-financial system, which truly serves only the ultra-rich, but in the action of the real wealth of our nation – the working class – the 99% – you and me.
We need to do what Americans have always done best: roll up our sleeves, face our (best and worst) selves, and get to work. Work out better ways to get crops harvested and move goods, make the immigration system work, and the same for the schools and the kids in them, and most of all their parents- yes, you and me. Listen more critically than emotionally, to the debates which swirl about us. We can do it. Our parents (and/or grandparents) did wonders with willpower, ingenuity and sweat. Can we afford to do less?