There is more to the ongoing debate over illegal immigration than meets the eye.
That’s why I believe neither political party is well-positioned now to address this issue.
I say this because any solution must reflect two noble impulses, without taking either one to a one-sided, destructive extreme.
On the one side are the deeply embedded values of “fairness”.
These values express a desire to champion the underdog, relieve the oppressed, and have compassion on the distressed.
These values look to the government to fix “the system”, to equalize social and economic conditions, and to intervene to relieve all suffering–even self-inflicted suffering and painful consequences from poor life choices.
From this vantage point, it’s wrong to call non-citizens “illegal immigrants” and/or deny them all the social benefits our rich country can afford to give them.
To treat citizens better than non-citizen immigrants is injustice, pure and simple.
And it is the government’s job to fix this injustice and make things fair.
On the other side are the deeply embedded values of “righteousness”.
These values express the a deep desire to uphold the law, play by the rules, and reward the law-abiding while punishing lawlessness.
These values look to the government to enforce the law, not reward those who break it, and uphold the time-honored, melting-pot system that built this country through LEGAL immigration.
They want a high and distinguishable difference between how citizens and non-citizens are treated, what benefits they are entitled to, etc.
It’s not unfairness to have such a distinction; it’s part of a rightly ordered, law-abiding society that reflects our American heritage.
The great gulf of misunderstanding
One side cries, “It’s not fair!”
The other side cries, “It’s not right!”
One side sees the righteousness group as “unjust oppressors” and “anti-Hispanic racists.”
The other side sees the fairness group as “law-breaking wrongdoers” and “pandering enablers”.
No matter how many elections we have, no matter how big a majority either side obtains, these cries and perceptions remain.
So what’s the problem?
For one thing, neither side can comprehend how the other thinks–making empathy impossible.
So they talk past each other and push harder and speak louder and louder until they are shouting and raging against the other.
So neither side can see any valid reason for the other side’s position–so they place a pejorative, dismissive label on the other.
So each side tries to use whatever part of government they control to further their side’s agenda over the objections of the other side.
Then each side ends up vehement, hardened and unwilling to work together.
And each side views any attempts to work with the other as treason and as a denial of their core values.
On two different planets
Advocates of fairness see the President’s recent plan to use executive orders on behalf of 5 million undocumented immigrants as justice at last.
The see it as the President doing his job in a long-overdue area of injustice–which justifies the executive branch’s intrusion into the legislative branch’s domain.
That is why they want immediate action from the President and cannot wait any longer.
Unfairness must be fixed and fixed now!
Advocates of righteousness, however, see the President as a law-breaker who is rewarding a big group of law-breakers.
They will never accept a solution that rewards illegal acts–no matter what size the impacted group, how long they have been here, or however hard their life here might be.
They will not just “get over” what they see as the President’s intrusion into the functions of Congress.
They will not just “get over” the fact that 11 million people are here illegally.
From this view, these folks need to return to their home country immediately or deported if they won’t go willingly.
Then the border must be so tightened up that it will be impossible for more of this illegality to happen.
Illegality must be fixed and fixed now!
The truth is we need both justice and righteousness to happen in all areas of society and in our own personal lives.
The impulses to be good to others and to uphold the law don’t necessarily need to be in mortal conflict.
Advocates of immigration reform would do well to stop speaking in terms of fairness, but instead speak about how our system makes it easy to be illegal and hard to be legal–and isn’t that stupid?
Advocates of the rule of law would do better to stop speaking in terms of illegality, but instead speak about our unnecessarily complex rules and loose borders have conspired to put people in a false, unfair position–and isn’t that stupid?
For what it’s worth:
Let’s establish a generous, large, guest worker program for long-term migrant workers who work in agriculture (and other industries) and make it super easy for them to be legal.
Then let’s give an easy way for the many already here to be grandfathered into this program.
Let’s establish a series of bi-lateral agreements with those nations sending us the most illegal immigrants–where we collect each nation’s taxes on monies their citizens earn here to fund benefit programs, schooling, etc. for their citizens here.
Such an agreement might include issuing versions of their home country’s driver licenses, and voting in their home country’s elections.
It seems both fair and right to me that some of what their citizens earn here go to pay for the costs their citizens incur here–instead of sending all excess income home and expecting us to foot their whole social services bill.
Children born to families in such programs would be citizens of their parent’s home nations and also be covered under their home country’s benefit programs that we’d administer for them.
To me, it seem like such an approach would be rational, fair, law-upholding, and far simpler than the mess we have now.
And it might even be something we can all unify around and even get Congress and the President to enact…
One can always hope.