It's tempting in a world of Republicans and Democrats, progressives and reactionaries, liberals and conservatives to think of issues in black-and-white terms. Even the most independent-minded among us are prone to pigeonhole. Pro-lifers are Republican, and pro-choicers are Democrats. Those who opposed the Iraq war were liberal, and those who endorsed the mission were conservative. And on and on it goes.
Last Monday, on the "progressive" radio talk show Liberadio(!), Mary Mancini and Freddie O'Connell hosted two guests on the topic of rejiggering the 287(g) program. But the hosts' own back and forth stole the show, easily besting Sheriff Daron Hall and immigration advocate Elliott Ozment as the programs's highlight.
While Mancini was articulating what most would call a "liberal" immigration outlook, O'Connell was asking questions and challenging assumptions.
“We have an immigration process that if it is not followed means there are consequences,” O’Connell said. “I'm not saying that that makes people criminals, but I'm saying you run the risk of landing before immigration court if you do come here illegally.”
While Mancini was talking about the plight of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and earn a living, O'Connell was reminding her that the immigration game has rules, ripe as they may be for reform. There is a legal process. O'Connell emphasized that open borders have consequences and that maybe it would be imprudent for a nation facing the worst recession since WWII to embrace without restriction the entirety of the world's economic refugee population.
This isn't to say that merely being circumspect about open borders and asking questions makes O'Connell a hard-core restrictionist or conservative. Anyone who knows O'Connell (who is, incidentally, a former SouthComm employee) personally, professionally or politically knows he's far from being a right-winger and has the highest respect and empathy for immigrants.
But the need for such a clarification is sort of the point. When O'Connell challenges his co-host to consider the consequences of an open border policy, he is, because of his progressive identity, somehow considered to be coloring outside the lines. If a conservative had made the same points, it would be easier to process. It would make sense in the ideologically polarized world we've constructed.
And that's disappointing. Immigration is not a left-wing or right-wing issue. It's just an issue. Most people who support the 287(g) program no more want the police actively targeting undocumented workers to deport than most opponents want the government giving illegal immigrants unfettered access to public services.
Liberals tend to oppose some commonsense immigration reforms, not because they find them so widlly discordant with their own values. They oppose them because conservatives support them.
After all, if 287(g) is supported by the "ignorant" and the "reactionary," then it must really be a covert program designed to rid Nashville of its Hispanic population. Right?
On the flip side, conservatives tend to think that if progressives are amenable to something like guest worker programs or other fixes short of outright restriction, then it must be a backdoor ploy to throw open our nation to the world's undesirables.
Compromise becomes impossible because we constantly question the motives of the opposition.
The sad part is that, in the end, reasonable immigration policy benefits both the principled Right and Left. Only the most cynical corporate apologists looking to keep undocumented cheap labor in the shadows wants the status quo. Most people just want a reasonable policy that shepherds a manageable number of immigrants through the citizenship process as smoothly and fairly as possible.
The Left doesn't truly want the border gates flung open so that cheap labor continues to depress the wages of the American working class, and the Right doesn't want to erect a fence and keep the world at arms length because deep down they know that our way of life is dependent on immigrant labor.
On immigration and other matters, it's not the policies that stand in the way of compromise so much as ideological stereotypes. Once people realize that it's OK to come to an understanding with someone they're politically programmed to resist, the faster many of our most important and divisive problems will be resolved.