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Deacon Gutiérrez: Where we agree on immigration

I’d like to focus again this month on things we agree on as Americans, particularly around immigration. There is a lot we agree on, but we feel very much divided. There are several reasons for this.  

One reason is our tendency to generalize about two sides of the debate. Consider the following: Who said in a pro-immigration speech that “America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time”? And who said that their legislative efforts would go far to bring immigrants out of the shadows so that they could “step into the sunlight” and become Americans? Respectively, those were President George W. Bush and President Ronald Reagan.

And who said that since we are a nation of laws, illegal immigrants who broke our laws by entering “must be held accountable – especially those who may be dangerous”? Who said that we have to stop the “open borders” movement because the influx of immigrants takes jobs away from Americans and depresses wages? Those were President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Now, we’ve probably arrived at our preconceived notions about those two sides because of the way our media – left and right – has portrayed the public debate, but another source of our division comes from our politicians themselves. For instance, in the 2010 midterm election and on the Spanish-language network Univision, President Obama referred to Republicans as the “enemies” of Latino citizens.

Then there’s President Donald Trump’s rhetoric. He began his campaign in 2015 by saying that Mexico sends its worst citizens to the United States. He said, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He went on to imply that all of Latin America was sending its worst people to us. His words were disgusting, and so our divided house continues to crack.

So it might be a pleasant surprise to discover that there is a good deal of agreement on immigration policy. According to Pew Research, 74% of us agree that there should be some legal status for so-called “Dreamers,” those brought to the United States as children by their parents who immigrated here illegally. Even a majority of Trump supporters hold this view. By the same percentage we agree that immigration is good for our nation. As of January of this year, 81% of Americans think that those here illegally should have a chance to become citizens once they’ve met certain requirements over a period of time. 

We are sometimes self-contradictory, however. Despite the fact that we see immigration as a good, a Harvard poll from last year showed that 81% of Americans wanted less immigration than we currently have. Though we hear regularly and accurately that the majority of Americans do not want a wall along the southern border, according to that Harvard study, 61% feel that current border security is inadequate.

More importantly, Pew Research tells us we agree that both parties should compromise. But neither party seems willing to do that at the moment, and our media seems less inclined to facilitate such a compromise.  

So what can we do? For one thing, we can work to turn down the rhetoric and be voices of compromise. Why should the extreme on either side get all the attention? Second, we might recognize our own blind spots. There are real deleterious effects to unfettered immigration, and there is racist ideology at play for some. Third, both sides would do well to reach out to and befriend the immigrants and refugees who, like my own parents, seek the American dream, for in the end our policies must always come back to the dignity of the human person.

Deacon Omar Gutiérrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at ofgutierrez@archomaha.org.

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