America has an immigration problem, and the definition of that problem depends on an individual’s political views. Those views have been hardened by Republicans and Democrats who see immigration as the perfect wedge issue.
Democrats accuse Republicans of being anti-immigrant and racist, while sprinkling their arguments with anecdotes and images of migrant children separated from their parents and held in cages.
Republicans accuse Democrats of supporting open borders and amnesty for illegals. They pepper their arguments with stories of violent, law-breaking illegals.
These are poll-tested stereotype positions that appeal to the base of each party, thus protecting politicians from a primary challenge while filling campaign coffers with donations from like-minded constituents.
But what makes for good politics makes for lousy policy. As conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg has said, “When people ask me what my preferred immigration policy would be, my standard answer is: ‘To have one’.”
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “The last comprehensive (immigration) legislation to make it through Congress was under President Ronald Regan in 1986.” Since then, the country has endured a whipsaw of rules and policies that vary from administration to administration and from court to court.
I have a fantasy about how the country could tackle immigration and it starts with a story I covered years ago.
I got a tip that surgeries at WVU Hospital—the original old building—were canceled because dust and dirt were coming through the ventilation system into the operating rooms. Hospital administrator David Fine called the press to the hospital.
Instead of downplaying the story, Fine brought reporters into an operating room with all the instruments laid out and a dummy on the table. A thin layer of black dust covered everything. Fine then said something like, “See, this is why we need a new hospital!”
Who could disagree with that? The dirty operating room from a fouled air handling system served as a launch point for the new J.W. Ruby Hospital. That was Fine’s version of never wasting a good crisis.
And now there is a crisis at the border.
What if President Biden, instead of dodging the border, gathered up as many Democrat and Republican lawmakers as he could persuade and headed to Del Rio, Texas, where several thousand Haitians who have entered the country illegally are camping in squalid conditions under a bridge.
Once there, Biden and his group could stand in sweltering Texas sun, the makeshift camp behind them, and call on Congress and the American people to support real immigration reform, a plan that secures the border, updates the policies for who gets into the country and provides a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12-million people in the country illegally.
Immigration should be a natural for our representatives. Except for Native Americans, we are a country of people whose ancestors came here from somewhere else, and they are still coming. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show 17 percent of the civilian workforce in the country are immigrants. One in five persons in the service industry was born in another country.
Given our history and the importance of immigration, it is shameful that we treat the issue as a political wedge tool rather than a public policy priority.