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Matthew Stokes: Immigration is a tough issue, but not this tough

By MATTHEW STOKES, Alabama Daily News Contributor

Several weeks ago in this space I offered a tentative defense of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ proposal to separate children from adults when crossing the southern border of the United States.  I defended it on the grounds that it could deter human trafficking, both the nefarious sort for purposes of labor and sexual exploitation and the more benign but still harmful sort where children are ferried across the border for a fee in a dangerous journey.  

Both forms of trafficking fit in with organized crime’s portfolio, and applauded Sessions’ attempt to cut off these avenues. At the same time, I warned that if the policy of the Department of Justice were to simply separate parents from the children as a means of deterrence, it would be unnecessarily cruel, politically stupid and out of step with the best ideals of American character.  

True to form, the Trump administration has taken the latter course.

As it concerns immigration, let’s be clear about a few things.  Every nation has a right to enforce its borders, and I do not believe any of us have an unlimited right to enter into another nation without following that nation’s proper legal procedures for entry.  

The United States is in desperate need of a clear, streamlined immigration policy that is enforced across the board. I prefer that we take a hardline of enforcement at the workplace, which would lead to self-deportation for many, and end chain migration for extended family networks, but the volatile political situations in many central and South American nations make claims for asylum very complex.  

I also think the Left in this country has erred severely in arguing primarily for open borders and suggesting any opposition is a form of xenophobia, while ignoring that there are legitimate concerns about criminality along the border. The Right has erred in suggesting that we face only two options; open borders and waves of crime on the one hand, and tough, draconian enforcement along with peace and security, on the other.

We should also agree to one more admission.  Immigration is a really, really hard issue. No previous administration has gotten this right, in part because Americans are deeply divided on how to move forward.  

A proper solution is like Goldilocks’ porridge – not too cold, not too hot – and yet as a nation we can’t decide what we want. In order to finally come to some sort of solution, liberal and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans are all going to have to make some concessions.  No one is going to get their ideal policy, and that’s probably how it should be.

One of the more polarizing aspects of this whole matter is that the Trump administration and its supporters in Congress and in some quarters of the right-wing media have decided that the mainstream media is really the problem.  

While I agree that there is often a subtle but pervasive bias on the part of CNN, MSNBC, the Associated Press and other traditional outlets, there’s just one problem: we know that families are being separated, and we know that the Trump administration has chosen to this as a matter of deterrence. John Kelly floated the idea in March 2017.  Jeff Sessions introduced the policy in April and recent reporting has reinforced the fact that Trump advisor Stephen Miller has pushed hard for the measure in order to deter families from entering.

Contrary to the President’s mischaracterization, to put it nicely, this specific policy is not the result of any laws, nor is it solely the fault of Congressional Democrats.  It is the explicit policy of this administration, and this administration holds the power to stop it immediately.

If we’re going to draw tight lines around this issue, I’ll repeat that I favor a tough line on enforcement.  The U.S. simply cannot be an open house for anyone and everyone who wants to come here, both as a matter of security and a matter of social cohesion.  Yet the best enforcement is at the workplace, where the disincentives are more humane. Separating parents from children for the purposes of processing and data collection may seem innocuous but we’re now down a slippery a slope that is inhumane and out of step with our national character, or least I once thought so.   

Given the robust defense of the policy from Sessions, Trump and the rest of this White House, and the silence from most of the Republican Party, including Alabama’s Congressional delegation, I’m no longer sure. It may be fun to score points against a media infrastructure that one may believe to be biased against the Trump administration, but that doesn’t help anyone make headway on the issue, nor does it answer the moral quandary surrounding Sessions’ policy.  

There is still a place to make certain that children are not being trafficked across the border, but any sensible, caring person can see that a nation as great as ours can simultaneously work to make sure that children brought to the border by criminal outfits are distinguished from children brought by their parents or other blood relatives. The former should be removed from their erstwhile chaperones, while the latter should be processed and held together with their families.

I realize that family separation has occurred under previous administrations, and Congressional Democrats could have done more to stabilize these policies when they held a majority in both houses under President Obama.  The media certainly didn’t seem as motivated back then, either, though the number of children and the nature of the detention differ in scale, if not degree.

At this point, though, I don’t care. Intramural fights among media members only distract from the core issue, which is that this current administration has chosen to pursue this policy and has willfully obfuscated or outright lied about the roots of this decision.  

President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have the authority to rework this practice today, while Congress acts to create a long-term solution. This is not a binary solution between family separation and border anarchy. If we as Americans truly think of ourselves a kind and generous people, then we can find ways to work beyond this.

Open borders advocates will probably never like a solution that denies entry to anyone, while enforcement hawks will undoubtedly balk at a solution that allows for settlement beyond whatever arbitrary number they find acceptable.  The rest of us should be willing to negotiate and craft a policy that can serve our nation and its citizens and yes, the needs of those seeking a better life inside our borders.

Quit trying to score points in a stupid media game of pointing out inconsistencies; there will always be time for that. Instead, demand better from those can make a change.

It’s time for Alabama’s delegation in the House and the Senate to quit hiding behind the Trump administration’s dishonest and disingenuous rhetoric and do the right thing.

Matthew Stokes is a writer living in Birmingham. Follow him on Twitter @yellingstopAL or email him at [email protected].


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