The Immigration Debate: A Battle for Nuance

By Benjamin Dierker on June 25, 2017

With an issue as sensitive and complicated as immigration, emotion and confusion are bound to cloud the complexities of the debate. There is no shortage of lenses through which to view the topic, from libertarianism to compassionate liberalism, from pragmatic enforcement to hawkish neoconservatism. And no shortage of actual immigration areas upon which to focus those lenses: border security, visa issuance and overstays, interior enforcement, refugee, or asylum seeking, to name a few.

Whether resulting from ignorance or obfuscation, the one desperately lacking aspect in the discussion is nuance. As Senator Tillis stated in a Senate Judiciary Commitytee hearing Wednesday, "We need to dispense with the 'we don't need borders, we need bridges' discussion on one end of the spectrum, and the other end of the spectrum that says that we need to build a structure that can be viewed from outer space." The entrenched political camps and imprecise rhetoric seem to distract from real solutions because they obscure real issues. From listening to the two extremes on the border security issue, I would have no idea what the actual status of the border is. Thankfully, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly spoke on the issue stating, "threats would get through our wide open southwest border" if we do not respond to the Customs and Border Protection personnel's requests "asking for a physical barrier" in many places. Through all the talk of walls, or the silence on the issue altogether, the missing recipe is "personnel, technology, and infrastructure," as Secretary Kelly stated before the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost echoed last week at the Senate Judiciary hearing.

The importance of nuance is that even that solution – which is a medium between a 2,000-mile border wall and no border at all – is still not complete. The mixture of assets along the border must vary based on geography, terrain, existing infrastructure, and constantly shifting crossing patterns.

Another area lacking clarity is the status of refugees. Refugee resettlement is supposed to be the last resort for those fleeing oppression or violence. Many people do not know that refugees do not come to the United States from war-torn countries, but from secondary countries to which they have already fled. The individuals are out of harm's way and in safe places – like Jordan for instance, which has accepted many fleeing Syrians. Resettlement in the U.S. is meant only for those for whom "it is impossible for a person to go back home or remain in the host country." The policy debate from here is once again clouded with emotion. It is not unreasonable to point out that the U.S. can send money to the host country to care for 12 Middle Eastern refugees to stay there for five years for the same taxpayer cost as bringing just one refugee here. While it may not be politically popular to talk about not accepting refugees, these are statistics and considerations that must be allowed into the dialogue.

We simply cannot tolerate people claiming that if we "reject" (read: don't bring in) refugees that we are killing people or subjecting them to war or violence. The truth is, before anyone comes here, they are safe and cared for, and we can continue to care for them at lower cost than bringing them here. Now, policymakers may still accept different numbers of refugees from different areas or for different reasons, but there must be nuanced understanding of the issues. The public discourse cannot remain in the fringes if intelligent debate is going to prevail. If the stakes are truly as life or death as both sides claim, we owe it to the taxpayer and to the immigrants and refugees to take the discussion seriously. Step one is getting beyond stereotypes, generalizations, and misinformation and asking hard questions.