Thursday, September 19, 2019

Is There a Place for Compassion in our Immigration Policy?

Is there a place for compassion in our immigration policy? That’s something we all take for granted. After all, the Statue of Liberty is engraved with those famous words that include one of my favorite titles for our country: “Mother of Exiles.”  Yet is compassion antithetical to “making America great”? 

I suggest just the opposite is true, but it’s not a reality in our present policy. After Dorian made its devastating home over the Bahamas, and after humanitarian workers and government agencies alike were saying that the survivors needed to be evacuated as quickly as possible, the President balked. He said that they can’t come in without proper documents, because the Bahamas had a lot of very bad people in them, including drug dealers, etc., echoing similar words he said about Mexico when he began his campaign. 

Are we the kind of country that sees our neighbor’s house on fire and then has them arrested for trespassing on our lawn? Are humanitarian admissions a burden to the U.S.?

We certainly act as if that is the case under the current administration. Refugee admissions have gone down from almost 85,000 a year to a bit over 22,000 for fiscal year 2018, and the administration has proposed cutting that to zero. Stephen Miller, the chief immigration policy advisor to the President, has been reported to have said that he would be happy if not another refugee ever set foot on U.S. soil.

And we all know about the treatment of would be asylees at our southern border and the President’s mostly failed attempt to build a wall to keep them out. Over 42,000 asylum seekers have been forced to remain in Mexico under a new policy.  Few if any so far have been approved for asylum. The administration has implemented policy change after policy change designed to make attaining asylum in the U.S. a virtual impossibility, especially for those applying at the southern border. Immigration court procedures at the border have devolved into a sham of due process – all in a very transparent attempt to deny the right to seek asylum. And, of course, there are the child separation policies that received so much news coverage – specifically designed as a deterrent. The administration had to be sued to provide soap and other basic necessities to detained children.

This list could go on and on, including revoking temporary protected status for long term residents fleeing disasters, deporting spouses of military members, deporting children with medical needs.

But is this good policy? Does this make us proud to be American? 

Some things are right whether they cost or not. But in this case, anti-immigrant policy because of supposed financial burdens to the country or for feared criminal activity are misplaced. Study after study has shown that the foreign born, including those here without authorization, are much less likely to commit serious crimes than the native born. As for economics, there is also strong evidence that immigration, including both legal and illegal, benefit the U.S. economy over the long term and, more importantly, that an option for legalization would create enormous economic benefits to the country. 

A serious proposal to deal with the problem of unauthorized immigration must be to create a way for long term residents without criminal history to eventually gain legal status and be afforded the dignity we owe to all Americans. This could reap economic benefits as well as reinforce positively our national character and reflect true American values of justice and compassion -- something we are badly in need of today.