Immigration in context

Prescott’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship holds a “Civil Dialogue” speaker series every month.

The group met up this past weekend to discuss the history of immigration law in the United States, paying particular attention to the legal and political trends behind policies of exclusion.

With such a heavy topic for Saturday morning chitchat, it was no surprise to find an atypically educated and thoughtful group of attendees. Thanks to that, it was a great discussion.

Some of the best questions cut to motivations behind current immigration policy. One person asked about the entry points of terrorists from both World Trade Center attacks and the foiled Millennium bombings, pointing out that most entered the U.S. under visas or through Canada. None entered through Mexico.

It was a great point to bring up in Arizona, where we’re so wrapped up in building that “danged fence.” We’ve completely lost the distinction between homeland security and labor regulation.

That confusion is a small part of a larger problem with our border fight. Yes, we’ve lost track of the issue — low-wage labor — but we’ve also lost track of pretty much all the facts.

In the fact-free arguments we have today, it doesn’t matter that trends have reversed, with millions of undocumented immigrants leaving over the last few years. And it doesn’t matter that farmers across the country, including here in Arizona, now say they need more workers.

It doesn’t matter that up to this point, the fences built, troops deployed and money spent have gone to keep out those who want to move and work here, not to hurt us.

We are unwilling to accept that violence on our border is not caused by immigration, but by our collective drug addiction and the huge amount of money we pay to get high.

We are unwilling to recognize that today’s Latinos go through what Africans, Asians, Eastern Europeans and even the Irish went through decades past. “Attrition-through-enforcement” sounds better when you ignore Jim Crow, Chinese Exclusion and Operation Wetback laws.

We firmly reject the objective fact that immigration policy is and has always been about race.

In this contextless and fact-free fight, our leaders can make straight-faced arguments that volunteers with guns should go down and combat “cross-border crime” in southern Arizona. They can argue to constituents — in this same civil dialogue series —about the need to change our 14th Amendment. They can defend discrimination as a tool to keep us safe.

Facts matter, it turns out. Context and history, in issues this complex, are helpful too.

What’s going on in Northern Mexico? Is it a war over the U.S. drug market, a Roman Catholic invasion of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant United States or the entirely predictable result of U.S. immigration and labor laws? What about a terror threat, with Hezbollah-trained insurgents making their way across our unsecured defense line?

There are Americans in power who see each of these scenarios, and what they think drives how they treat the issue.

Civil discourse is a great thing. If our leaders approached their decisions as thoughtfully as the Prescott Unitarians, things might be going better.

Reach the columnist at john.a.gaylord@asu.edu

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