How To Talk About Immigration On Thanksgiving
With Thanksgiving almost here and politics sure to come up at the family dinner table, it's nice to be prepared with a few facts to cut through the arguments you're sure to hear. Given the growing role of Latino voters in elections, immigration is guaranteed to be one of the topics. And what better topic given that the pilgrims themselves were immigrants.
I recently sat down with Angie Kelley, the Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy at the Center for American Progress, our parent organization and she offered some valuable insight, and great suggestions on how best to explain the articulate the need for immigration reform when confronted with aggressive and misinformed arguments against it.
No matter how complete your claim or how fact-based your data, some immigration opponents cannot move beyond the most fundamentally irrational argument: “They’re illegal.” In my conversation with Ms. Kelley, we discussed a clear, concise way to shut down the anti-legalization voice:
- First, the fact is that it’s time to get real about immigration reform. Other militaristic methods—immigrant “hunting” and mass deportation—aren’t viable options. “That is not who this nation is,” said Kelley. About 11.2 million undocumented people currently live in the United States, and to try to find each and every one of them would be chaotic and ineffective. Without a working relationship between the millions of immigrants and the US government, those undocumented civilians may be less likely to report crime to authority, less likely to send their children to school, and less likely to enroll in school and English classes themselves, which hurts all Americans. Two-thirds of undocumented immigrants have lived in the United States for over 10 years working, paying taxes, and building lives not as illegal aliens, but as aspiring Americans. Instead of harping on the legality of some immigrants’ entrance into the country, we need to look ahead to a lasting solution.
- Second, bridging the gap between legal and illegal is essential. Adopting new language to refer to immigrants may abate race-based discrimination against Latinos. Replacing the term undocumented worker with aspiring citizen, or illegal alien with new American affirms the American identity of immigrants and reinforces shared experiences and values of all Americans. The language that will win on immigration is as important as the policy-making.
- Third, no progressives want weak borders. Neither legalization nor a comprehensive immigration structure can be achieved without secure borders. To protect national security, we must know who’s in, who’s out, and who wants in and out. “We need an immigration system that works for us,” one that is dynamic and up-to-date. Our current administration issues the same number of visas today as it did in 1990, when the economy was booming, and in 2008, as the economy began to collapse. We need a visa system that reacts to the ebb and flow of our political and economic environment.
When reading reports and drafting policies, progressives will be most successful when we arm ourselves with the facts and can explain why this issue and a lasting solution are so important; especially when faced with arguments driven by fear and anger and not by reality. For more on the economic and social benefits of real, common-sense reform (like the DREAM Act), check out the latest from Angie and her team here. As she puts it, “Legalization isn’t amnesty, it’s an answer.”
Jennifer Hicks is a Communications Intern for Campus Progress.