“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teaming shore ...”
These familiar lines are from the sonnet “The New Colossus” authored by Emma Lazarus in 1883. The sonnet was used as an auction item to raise money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now stands.
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These iconic words have become a much loved and enduring sentiment of a proud nation of immigrants. However, to the legions of annoying partisan pundits who believe otherwise, these words were never meant to be nor are they now, a substitute for an immigration policy. Nor does this sonnet advocate for the widespread violation of U.S. immigration law. But I digress.
In the current charged environment, it’s wise to define terms. This is certainly true when discussing immigration and immigration policy. Immigration has become a loaded word as are terms like gender, race and diversity. Actually, the real meanings are easily understood. That is, until cynical political partisans intervene to conflate, misconstrue, hyperbolize, and in general torture meanings until they support an equally tortured narrative.
“Immigration” is the action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country. The word “policy” is defined as a deliberate system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. Wa-la! “Immigration policy” is therefore: a system of principles that guide decisions about immigration to achieve rational outcomes. Does anyone out there believe we have a national policy that achieves rational immigration outcomes? Just thought I’d ask.
Things seem upside down. Aspiring immigrants who wait their turn and arrive in accordance with U.S. immigration laws are broadly supported but rarely championed. Conversely, those who disregard or even flaunt immigration law are narrowly supported but loudly championed. This situation is the result of a cynical “blowfish strategy.” In nature, a blowfish defense is puffing itself up to appear more than twice its actual size. In politics, a blowfish partisan seeks to deflect informed challenges by creating an illusion of broad-based if not righteous support for something intuitively wrong — Orwellian writ large.
Blowfish deceit can be defeated with diverse views courageously expressed and supported with verifiable data. Two such data sources offer findings both sobering and hopeful. One is a Department of Justice report on federal prisoners and the other a Harvard-Harris poll testing voter attitudes about immigration.
The 2017 DOJ report indicates that more than one-in-five federal prisoners are foreign born and most all unlawfully present. This cohort, larger than the population of Olympia, aren’t hapless violators of misdemeanor traffic laws — rather, a disproportionate number are drug related offenders contributing to the nation’s drug abuse crisis. This report is helpful because it further dispels the notion that the current immigration chaos has no real cost — social or economic.
The Harvard poll offers some hope for consensus. Here are some of the highlights: 65 percent of all voters polled would support a deal for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that, 1) secures the southern border; 2) ends chain migration; 3) eliminates the VISA lottery; and, 4) grants amnesty to DACA recipients. Surprisingly, an even larger number of respondents, 68 percent of Hispanics and those who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, support this deal. The poll doesn’t test the details of an agreement, but it does filter out much of the misleading and divisive background noise.
Poll results like these are truly amazing, not because of their intuitive rationality, but because they seem so foreign to what the “blowfish” partisans have conditioned us to believe. The name calling and misdirection of the immigration milieu tells us that partisans of the minority fringe will sabotage achievable consensus-based solutions for the sake of narrow interests and raw political power.
If the Harvard poll is truly representative, a substantial area of bipartisan common ground exists in reality. It offers helpful insight into what friends and neighbors really believe and offers a roadmap for achieving bipartisan progress toward an immigration policy that can deliver rational outcomes.
May the last line of Lazarus’ sonnet achieve a renewal of meaning and pride in 2018. And may Lady Liberty proudly proclaim from her pedestal once more:
“.. I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.”
Terry Oxley is a member of The Olympian’s 2018 Board of Contributors and is retired Army officer and former communications career at Puget Sound Energy. He may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.