At its most fundamental, politics is about people. When politics is at its best, it brings people together, in cooperation, to accomplish things and solve problems that no one could do alone. At its worst, it can create hate, bitter enmity and division, and lasting damage to the fabric of our society.
The political debates over immigration – both legal and illegal – are a perfect illustration of the damage that can happen when we stop treating human beings like human beings and instead focus on stereotypes and categorization. These discussions all have a tendency to do two things – they raise the blood pressure of people on both sides and they accomplish nothing.
That’s why so many of the immigration conversations we have in the Republican Party are deeply unsettling to me on many levels – there was one written just this morning. So much ink is spilled arguing over percentages of immigrants on welfare, the cost of undocumented kids in our schools, chain migration, the rule of law, immigrant crime rates, and the like that we lose sight of what really matters in this whole debate – we are talking about people and individual lives. Men, women, children. Fathers, mothers, families. People.
Some are discussing, judging, praising, sorting, ranking, attacking, sifting and categorizing people. And they’re doing it based on where they were born, why they came to America, their skin color, language, accent, culture, religion, and legal status. They are dehumanizing people, making broad and sweeping generalizations about them, and ranking them based on somebody’s subjective opinion of the worthiness of their culture or their group’s likelihood to become productive members of American society.
It’s flat out wrong. It goes against everything we have been taught, whether from parents, priests, or professors. It goes against the founding principles of our nation, a nation that has fought and won two wars to not only prove but to put into practice the founders’ assertion that “all men are created equal … endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” It is unjust, unfair, unworthy dialogue in a nation that has long embraced the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Immigrants, whether legal or illegal, are people. They deserve to be treated like people. Any conversation, any policy discussion we have, any solutions to the problems that exist needs to begin with an acceptance and acknowledgment that we are dealing with life altering events in the lives of real people, including some of the most vulnerable and preyed upon among us. These issues must be discussed with compassion and understanding. The cavalier attitudes that lead to statements like “they’re stealing our jobs,” “they’re depressing wages,” “they’ve got diseases,” “they’re killing people,” and “they just don’t belong here,” represent the worst kind of behavior, the most vapid kind of political thought – the kind of ignorance that needs to be educated out of the public sphere.
The same goes for equally cavalier solutions like “build a fence,” “deport them all,” “make them learn English,” and the like. The name calling, whether it’s the tongue-in-cheek “undocumented Democrats” pablum or the more racist and nativist language some have employed, is pointless and unnecessary. None of it is particularly helpful, and only goes to create more division and animosity on both sides.
Every person deserves to be treated fairly, be judged based on his own actions and attitudes, not on stereotypes and categories. The bad behavior of one should not be attributed to all. As we say in the law, each person should be judged on a case-by-case basis. And the solutions we discuss need to reflect the understanding that we are talking about life altering change for people.
That’s why we’ve been drawing attention to this kind of bad behavior for years now here at Bearing Drift. And since we’re a Republican site, we focus on us, but don’t let that fool you – the Democrats are in no way immune to this behavior, either. They have a responsiblity to address their own bad actors. The way we, the GOP, talk about immigration is driving people away from the party, making us less competitive, making us less attractive to the broader electorate and thus making it harder for us to win elections and effectively govern. So that’s why we talk about it. And we’re not going to stop talking about it because somebody thinks “now is not the time,” or “we’ve got an election to worry about.”
There are some things that more important than just the next election.
When we see people treating immigrants, legal and illegal, as less than human – talking about them like they’re a faceless, ravenous horde, using the language of infection, invasion and rapine, we have both a duty and an obligation to stand up and say that’s wrong.
Politics is, and always has been, about people. Let’s start talking about it the right way.