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The Politics of Immigration

The recent Swiss vote in direct opposition of EU migratory policy combined with the forthcoming legislative battles in the United States Congress have brought immigration back into the forefront of political discussion. The question of the just permeability of borders is a historic one, one that has plagued countries and empires since the dawn of civilization. It is common to question the vast powers left to arbitrary lines in the sand, equipped with an authority above all contexts that can impose an inferior fate to those born ten meters south or north of them.

Appeals for liberalized border policies often point to this fact that one’s birthplace wasn’t earned but rather won via lottery. Why should one be punished for seeking a better lot in life, particularly after being forced into the first? Furthermore, proponents argue, progressive immigration legislation can correct for fiscal deficiencies, as an effective and fair legalization system would incur profits from fees—both as penalties and for entrance—while gaining a new pool of income from the taxation of previously undocumented aliens. Indeed, the tangible positives outweigh the speculative negatives, ones normally tied to an appeal to morality predicated on stereotypes and an idealistic belief in “the right way”—a weak justification befitting those whose decisions were seemingly never muddled in the grey.

While the discussion on borders often boils down into accusation of prejudice and nationalism, it would be ignorant to dismiss all the pushes for restrictions on foreign migration as solely the effects of an uninformed populace riddled with xenophobia. National security, high unemployment, and the cost of social services all motivate governments to close their borders to immigrants. Those who make such arguments, as in the case of Switzerland, approach the topic from an analytical perspective, inciting proactive discussion rather than hateful vitriol. The discussion on immigration in the United States would do well to approach the topic from such an angle. Sadly, one cannot say that it does.

American immigration policy rests in a cyclical limbo, the definitive example of a topic dictated by the political winds. The congressional discussion on this topic is bereft of substance, deteriorating into maneuvering and sound bites that try to gain an edge in November. The fact is that politics should not be driving this discussion; policy should. While is in the best interest of politicians to remain in office, it is a disservice to the millions impacted by prospective immigration reform and an insult to the American voter.

There lies the crux of the issues, the acceptance of politics-as-usual as the status quo rather than as a malignant feature that stifles progress. Some will contend that deliberation and compromise is essential for a modern day democracy. That goes without saying. Budgets, fiscal policy, healthcare reform, and taxation are all issues that have benefited from their rounds on the Senate floor. Immigration reform is different. For the last fifteen years, the topic has only been brought up when a party felt like it would reap political benefits from pushing it. The American people and the millions who want to join them look to Congress in these next months to buck this trend, but not merely for the sake of their personal ideologies. Rather, they are asking their representatives to work actively for a sensible and just solution to a prevalent problem. In an election year, that’s easier said than done.

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