Bleeding hearts and grinning trolls
Solving the immigration crisis is hard for everyone
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On Sept. 14, 50 migrants arrived at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts by plane from San Antonio, Texas. The people on board, described as both asylum-seekers and immigrants, were meant to be a memorable political demonstration. Mostly the brainchild of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, the message seemed to be, “What if the problem is in your backyard?”
When we move past the optics, however, the actual solution is less clear. Instead of seeing immigration in a purely ideological frame, whether reflexive opposition or romantic sympathy, it has to be treated as a matter of political reality. The US border crisis and the larger question of immigration is a real problem with no easy answer.
This latest round of political theater comes in the context of an ongoing crisis, and the last two years have seen extraordinary spikes in illegal immigration through the nation’s southern border. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection notes that over 2.6 million migrants have attempted to enter the United States illegally since January 2021. In April of 2022, there were 234,088 attempts. That’s larger than the populations of Baton Rouge, La., Tallahassee, Fla., or Boise, Idaho. Adding that many new residents in a single month is astounding. And it’s important to remember that these numbers are not entering through the major metropolitan airports but by land from Mexico. Instead of more conventional immigration, this is a kind of emergency entrance option.
Many Christians, perhaps most, have an initial sympathy towards immigrants who are perceived to be in need. The Old Testament is filled with passages to welcome the stranger. The “sojourner who is within your gates” even makes his way into the Fourth Commandment. But particular details complicate this picture. The recent Venezuelan migrants decided not to go to Chile or Argentina, nor to stop in Mexico. The Martha’s Vineyard Gazette reported this as their explanation, “We came here because of the situation in our country, for the economy, for work, for lots of things.” Wouldn’t almost all immigrants say the same? There’s an important difference between asylum and seeking “a better life.”
So that means that ordinary political questions have to be asked. How many immigrants should a country accept and at what pace? What sort of qualifications should they possess, and in which parts of the United States should they live? And in the case of lower-income immigrants, the obvious questions of employment and housing move to the front. In the event that people are unable to provide for their basic needs, then predictable new problems will arise. Good will alone is not enough.
These sorts of problems are ostensibly what DeSantis’s political theater was intended to highlight. He may have been hoping for the added bonus of exposing any dormant NIMBYism among affluent New Englanders. But liberals can stage a photo-op too, and many were happy to provide short-term food and housing to thwart the governor’s plans. Still, an effective solution hasn’t really been offered. Not even the fabled “wall” would have been a fixer for these recent arrivals. They cooperated with border agents and were waiting to work through the system, legally. A normal border barrier was there. These people went through the door—and the Biden Administration is holding the door wide open.
The truth is, both the left and the right prefer to treat immigration as a totem rather than a practical problem. A closer look at dynamics around irregular and illegal immigration will show malignant factors causing both the “supply” and the “demand.” Certain countries are so inhospitable that large numbers of their people want to leave. How did those countries get that way? Internal corruption, yes, but more often than not, economic and even military actions of foreign powers played a huge role. There are also plenty of American companies and individuals who capitalize on workers who cannot lay claim to basic legal wages and welfare benefits.
In addition to this, there is the perennial problem of America advertising itself as a promised land. Having been a haven for some in the past, the idea is that it can be a haven for all now. But this is dangerously utopian and smuggles in many frontier fantasies of the past. It is, frankly, a savior nation mentality. If those other nations aren’t being strengthened and equipped for sustainability, this can become parasitic on the international order itself. The high ideals often hide real problems. Or, put another way, the United States cannot receive all those from around the globe who would prefer to live here than in their homelands.
Christians absolutely have to love their neighbors and to show hospitality, especially to those in extreme need. But a long-term love, not to mention good stewardship, has to look at the larger picture. Politics shouldn’t be a mean-spirited game, but it also can’t be wishes and dreams. Until we get real, things are only going to get worse.
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