The Damaging Civic Consequences of Illegal Migration, Pt. 4: Rhetorical Slights of Hand

By Stanley Renshon on July 18, 2014

American politics, and immigration debates are certainly no exception, has become riddled with "narratives", "framing", and "optics" designed to convey an impression that doesn't really exist — at least in the way it is presented.

A narrative is the construction of a set of "facts", specifically designed to advance the interests of those who construct it. Or as a Democratic political operative put it recently to journalist Ron Fournier of the National Journal, "Every political cause has a narrative. And every narrative has a plot."

And then there is "framing", which is the rhetorical handmaiden of a constructed "narrative". Here a situation, which has many possible meanings or understandings, is reduced to one essential element — ordinarily the one that favors the position of those making it.

Consider in that regard the surge of illegal aliens made up of children, adolescents, women, and men now overwhelming border control and immigration officials at our southern border.

President Obama described the surge as an "urgent humanitarian situation", and it is. However, it is much more than that and the president's choice of words to describe it thus is deceptive, as partial truths often are.

The term "urgent humanitarian situation" stresses that people are in dire straights and need our help. It's designed to tug at American's heartstrings and pave the way for fast action to accommodate and take care of them. Hence the president's urgent request to Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency supplemental funds. That request is almost wholly targeted for resettlement costs, the hiring of attorneys for children caught up in any deportation process, and anti-smuggling initiatives.

The president's proposal did nothing to address changing the law that was purportedly at the root of making it difficult for officials to quickly send the new arrivals back to their home countries. I say "purportedly" because Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who helped write the measure, said "the White House does not need new power to act." And for that reason, among others, including its size, the request immediately ran into opposition on Capitol Hill.

And on "Fox News Sunday" there was this exchange between Juan Williams and Karl Rove about the 2008 Wilberforce Act that is supposedly the basis of not being able to seek expedited removal:

WILLIAMS: That's under law. But you've got to speed it up. Because right now things are so backlogged because of the absence of comprehensive immigration law, that things are just clogged up, and that makes everybody frustrated.

HUME: Karl.

ROVE: I hate to engage in my regular routine of correcting Juan, but here's the law that he's referring. The 2008 Wilberforce Act. It affects, and I quote from section 211, victims of severe forms of trafficking. This only affects children who have either been forced child labor, forced into being child soldiers, or are victims of sex trafficking. This is bigger than the Wilberforce Act.

(See also this Center for Immigration Studies analysis.)

Oh, and speaking of slight of hand, it turns out that, according to the Washington Post, many of those "unaccompanied minors" presenting themselves at the border are actually accompanied by adults.

The border surge of illegal migrants — women, children, adolescents, and men — is a humanitarian issue. When thousands of vulnerable people make a treacherous and dangerous journey without much food, clothing, or money and are dependent on the not-too-tender mercies of the coyotes who guide them, and American authorities are unprepared to deal with those circumstances, suffering ensues.

That is the humanitarian part of the disaster, but it is much, much more.

Next: The Border Surge Is Much More than a Humanitarian Issue