What I Took Away From The Caravan
[This post's 2nd paragraph has been edited for correction]
I've never had much of an opinion on immigration. Being of a fourth generation of immigrants from Ireland and Greece I knew that one of America's strengths was its acceptance of immigration. At the same time, I understand that we cannot simply let anyone into the country and expect everything to be fine. However, in recent months I have developed more and more of a real concrete opinion on immigration as of recently, mostly as a result of my personal story, my immigration course in college and (as you could tell from the title) the 2018 caravan controversy.
To explain why I have this opinion , let me first introduce you to my ancestors (from my father's Irish side at least).
Before my great-grandparents arrived in America from County Galway in Ireland, they were steadfast supporters of the Irish Republican Army (now the IRA in Northern Ireland) during the Irish War of Independence. My grandmother's father, Martin Ward (after whom me and my father were named), was a young man when Easter Rising occurred and worked with other children during the attack in relaying messages and supplies to IRA forces, and for his work was imprisoned by the British. My grandfather's descendants, meanwhile, may have included the the likes of Irish Revolutionary hero Thomas Clarke, the author of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic (although it is pure speculation).
At this time, America and Britain were allies in World War I. The Woodrow Wilson administration, like the British government, was terrified of the notions of a 'fenian revolt' in Ireland because of the possibility that the Irish Republicans were working with the Germans (our enemy in that war). As a result, the Wilson Administration utilized the Espionage and Sedition Acts to silence pro-Irish speech and took other measures in opposition to the Irish Republican effort.
However, that did not stop my great-grandparents from moving to the United States after the revolution. They settled in Brooklyn and started their families out of abject poverty, which progressively went to the upper middle class life I have today. However, after all those years I still ask myself, should my great grandparents come over in the first place? They were political dissidents in the eyes of the U.S. government at the time (or at lease Woodrow Wilson), even if they didn't commit any serious crimes back in Ireland, so should they have been turned back?
This is a question that lingered in my mind for years since much of the debate around immigration has to do with crime. However, as I was pondering this question I found myself in an immigration course at college.
While I knew I signed up for being a needle in a bubble when I applied to college in the first place, I never expected just how universally liberal the interpretation of the immigration issue was among my students. From 'debunking' the president to cultural appropriation, most of my fellow students were incredibly pronounced in their allegiance to the political Left. However what I've only noticed until now is how much the immigration debate centers around race. A lot of discussion in class was based on what was 'problematic' and what white people did in the days of yore to receive millions of different peoples coming to their country from around the world. To say the least, it was anything but productive to the conversation.
However, there were instances where I did learn new things about immigration in this class (though unfortunately they distanced me further on the issue from my classmates). Immigration Courts are under incredible pressure to churn out as many deportations as they can, since they are overstocked with cases and now being overworked by the Department of Justice. One of the reasons for this was the fact that children could not be deported immediately, instead having to stay in the U.S. for a set number of years with a relative until they went about their case. Not only that, but mental health was an interesting thing to delve into in the class. As it turns out, many immigrants (legal and illegal) come to the U.S. with great mental and physiological health (even more so at times than the upper class).
However, with 5 years in the U.S. immigrants start to see a tremendous increase in the risk for anxiety, depression and even suicide because of cultural shifts (that is unless they stay in a family and speak English).
I was also inspired by the work of Reihan Salam, a child of second-generation Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, who had the same opinions that I had saying:
"Many established Americans find themselves alarmed by immigration-driven change, cultural and otherwise, and they often come across as angry and unwelcoming. Then you have the newcomers themselves, a group that includes immigrants and the children of immigrants, who resent the suggestion that they don’t belong, and their self-proclaimed allies, who see immigration-driven change as a moral imperative." (Wall Street Journal)
He argues that America should focus less on the borders and of those coming here but rather their children, as the growing number of immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa don't see themselves as part of the melting pot (seeing it instead as a white invention). This was similar to the convictions of my classmates, to which they could relate so well with the children of these immigrant groups.
Then in late October, in the middle of my time in this class, the caravan had begun.
Never in my lifetime was a caravan like this so important to people my age, considering we now live in the Trump era. My class discussions largely focused on events surrounding the caravan, and reflected the exact same mood of the media: amnesty claims, American imperialism and the Trump's proposal of ending birthright citizenship by executive order. However, there was so much that my fellow students, and even my professor, left out of the question; importantly the reasons these migrants were coming in, the gender make-up of the caravan, the mannerisms of the migrants and the people supporting their arrival. I believe Ari Horowitz's video for Prager University best illustrated what most Americans and the media knew about the caravan but were too afraid to speak up about for fear of sounding bigoted (the video is below).
As we now know, the caravan consisted mostly of men looking for work (rather than the claim that it was women and children looking for asylum), not to mention that the caravan was being motivated by NGOs like Pueblo Sin Fronteras (seen in the video) which operates with the active mission of breaking down national borders (and not just those of the United States). Lastly while most of the migrants were anything but violent, violent incursions like what happened with Mexican police and with Customs Enforcement are a real and present threat for both law enforcement and the migrants themselves. And to think that all of this happened right before a contentious midterm election made for the perfect political storm.
After all of this I could not stand around and be blissfully unaware of what to do on the issue. I never thought that I could really balance the idea of respecting and cherishing immigration while simultaneously believing in things like border security or law & order. However now it's clear as day to me what America needs, and it isn't open borders or mass deportation.
In short my opinion is this:
America needs a tough-love approach to the issue of immigration. We must ensure we can bring in enough immigrants every year to make up for declining birth rates and a growing retiree population, but we must also ensure that these immigrants come with families, speak English, don't commit crime and understand American values clearly. To help immigrants assimilate we must help the children of legal immigrants from non-white countries become a component of the melting pot, while securing the border from further illegal immigration through comprehensive law enforcement. Illegal immigrants who are already here should have a pathway to citizenship that proves they have assimilated into the United States, otherwise they should be deported. End birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants by act of Congress and Supreme Court approval (not executive order), and instead allow them the same path to citizenship.
I believe this concept for immigration reform to be the best we can get for a bipartisan solution to the issue of immigration. However for those still budging from either extremes I close with perhaps the best possible reinforcement of my case, a quote from President Ronald Reagan (himself a pro-immigration president and preacher of law & order) about those who (like my great grandparents) arrived to Ellis Island:
"Through this Golden Door has come millions of men and women. These families came here to work. Others came to America and often harrowing conditions. They didn’t ask what this country could do for them but what they could do to make this refuge the greatest home of freedom in history. They brought with them courage and the values of family, work, and freedom. Let us pledge to each other that we can make America great again."