The ongoing debate on immigration in the public domain continues to generate much interest from both left and right quarters in the United States. At the core of the debate is how to handle the estimated 11 or 12 million undocumented immigrants presently living here. Depending on where you are sitting in the debate – Left or Right – the answer to that question will be in an either or formulation.
On the Left of the debate are liberals, libertarians and compassionate Americans who acknowledge that this mass of poor people have broken basically or of three US immigration laws and should be penalized for that by paying a hefty fine but that should not bar them from regularization of their status. For this group kicking them out of the country is both un-American and not a practical thing to do.
On the Right of the debate are conservatives and neo-conservatives who see the undocumented problem as a law and order issue – people broke the law so incarcerate them and kick me out of the United States after they have paid for their crime(s). There are no shades of grey here; no compromise positions with advocates for this kind of action demanding only that US laws be enforced.
And yet there is a Centrist position in this debate albeit weak and not so well articulated perhaps because of the cacophonous din that is being created by elements of the two extremes. The fact is that people become illegal immigrants to the United States in one of three ways: entering without authorization or inspection, staying beyond the authorized period after legal entry, or by violating the terms of legal entry. The vast majority of them come to America seeking a better life.
Criminalizing the undocumented has become the cause celebre of the myopic Right Wing because it takes the cowardly and easy way out. When the Right Wing paints the features of the undocumented as criminals and makes the quantum leap that they are all terrorists-in-waiting then the waters of the immigration debate become so muddied that it creates the appearance of “we against them.” By stoking the fires of xenophobia, positing erroneous conclusions, and making statements bereft of facts the Right Wing seeks to inculcate in the minds of the gullible that America is harboring “the enemy within.”
But this dumbing down of the immigration debate by the ultra-Right Wing is matched by the confused and tortuous positions of those on the Left. While the right is clear and unambiguous about its intentions the Left hesitates, vacillates, obfuscates and stitches together a hodge-podge of “initiatives” that end up being muddled and incoherent. In this climate the Right gets the upper hand by boiling down its arguments to a lawful and unlawful brew while the Left is flopping all over the place.
The view from the Center is that there is a need to make a clear case for meaningful immigration reform based on existing facts used to justify any future action. If, and it’s a big if, politics, raw emotion, xenophobia and tortured reasoning can be set aside for a moment and the entire picture of the mess that is present day immigration in the United States can be looked at objectively a few startling facts will emerge.
For those on the Right who want to “pull-up-the-drawbridge” and deny the undocumented access to the most basic human services the revelation that millions of undocumented immigrants pay taxes into US coffers might come as a shock. That is because of the spin by the mass media led by CNN’s Lou Dobbs and others that the undocumented are moochers who simply want to live of the sweat and labor of American citizens.