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The Immigration Debate


Anyone who works for the Niskanen Center, named after one of the worst human beings to pollute this nation, is someone I don’t want to say nice things about. But Will Wilkinson nails this essay about the immigration debate. It’s really between people on one side who think problems can be solved through policy and people on the other side who want mass-scale ethnic cleansing.

Mainstream coverage of the debate over President Donald Trump’s DACA hostage-taking has been marked by an alarming insouciance, verging on denial, about what’s actually going on — and about just how much is on the line.

Trump and his restrictionist supporters are frank about what they want, and why, but the media is often too genteel or too cowed by fear of the charge of bias to faithfully relate what newly energized ethnonationalist populists themselves say.

That needs to stop. We need to square up to the fight at hand. We aren’t having a technocratic disagreement about the optimal number of or distribution of visas. We’re having a fight about national identity, about what it means to be an American, about who counts as one of us, and about who should receive full and equal protection under the law.

And one side, led by the president of the United States, is fighting dirty, holding a sword over the necks of 700,000 young immigrants who grew up in this country.

To cast the DACA immigration debate as something other than 100-proof cultural identity politics sows confusion, obscures the urgency of our duty to protect vulnerable Americans, and strengthens the hand of the side that knows what it’s doing.

Wilkinson goes on to explore the white supremacist arguments of not only Trump/Kelly/Sessions but their supporters. He also, very usefully because this fact is so often forgotten when we talk about immigration, notes that most of immigrants, at least from Mexico, are actually immigrating to Mexico. Or at least Mexico before the United States stole the northern half of it in an unjust and imperialistic war to expand slave territory between 1846 and 1848.

This is the problem with liberal approaches to issues today. The other side is made up of fireeaters, to use the term given to southern extremists in 1860. They just don’t care. They want all the brown people gone. And they have a lot of advantages, especially in places like the Senate, where Joe Manchin can effectively neuter any Democratic strategy to protect immigrants through a government shutdown with a credible threat to retire. I don’t have any great solutions to this problem. But Wilkinson is absolutely correct that we need to be serious about the problem here. Nothing will satisfy Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III except widescale ethnic cleansing and the stripping of birthright citizenship to the children of immigrants. That is what we face. We deal with it forthrightly or we lose. Wilkinson deserves the final word:

The fact that there’s any question about affording legal status to a class of rooted young immigrants who grew up American among Americans is shameful. It’s a reflection of the disgraceful fact that so many of us are doggedly ignorant of the country we claim to revere, and deny the plain historical truth that America has always been multicultural, that Spanish colonial mestizo culture is a foundational American culture, and that many Mexican Americans have deeper roots on American soil than those of us whose European ancestors arrived rather late in the day at Ellis Island.

It makes no more sense, culturally or ethnically, to call into question the Americanness of a young women whose mom brought her from Hermosillo to Tucson at the age of 6 than it does to doubt that a white guy raised in Syracuse, but born in Toronto, can ever really belong there.

Threatening to hang DREAMers out to dry — to arrest them, to uproot them, to jail them, to rip them from their families, to sever their bonds of loyalty and love, and to cast them into exile — threatens the equality and security of tens of millions of American citizens who are ethnically and culturally identical to them.

And a threat to any subset of Americans is a threat to America — to us. Trump’s unilateral act of political hostage-taking was, from the beginning, an act of violent division, an assault on the integrity of the actual, existing, real-world American people.

The ethnically purified fantasy of the populist imagination is a seditious force that obscures our higher loyalties, shatters the peace of liberal equality, and splits Americans into warring tribes ready to abuse people whom patriotic decency would otherwise compel us to defend.

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