Post Politics: Can't we just all get along on immigration?

Sunday, October 25, 2009 at 11:45pm

It's tempting in a world of Republicans and Democrats, progressives and reactionaries, liberals and conservatives to think of issues in black-and-white terms. Even the most independent-minded among us are prone to pigeonhole. Pro-lifers are Republican, and pro-choicers are Democrats. Those who opposed the Iraq war were liberal, and those who endorsed the mission were conservative. And on and on it goes.

Last Monday, on the "progressive" radio talk show Liberadio(!), Mary Mancini and Freddie O'Connell hosted two guests on the topic of rejiggering the 287(g) program. But the hosts' own back and forth stole the show, easily besting Sheriff Daron Hall and immigration advocate Elliott Ozment as the programs's highlight.

While Mancini was articulating what most would call a "liberal" immigration outlook, O'Connell was asking questions and challenging assumptions.

“We have an immigration process that if it is not followed means there are consequences,” O’Connell said. “I'm not saying that that makes people criminals, but I'm saying you run the risk of landing before immigration court if you do come here illegally.”

While Mancini was talking about the plight of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and earn a living, O'Connell was reminding her that the immigration game has rules, ripe as they may be for reform. There is a legal process. O'Connell emphasized that open borders have consequences and that maybe it would be imprudent for a nation facing the worst recession since WWII to embrace without restriction the entirety of the world's economic refugee population.

This isn't to say that merely being circumspect about open borders and asking questions makes O'Connell a hard-core restrictionist or conservative. Anyone who knows O'Connell (who is, incidentally, a former SouthComm employee) personally, professionally or politically knows he's far from being a right-winger and has the highest respect and empathy for immigrants.

But the need for such a clarification is sort of the point. When O'Connell challenges his co-host to consider the consequences of an open border policy, he is, because of his progressive identity, somehow considered to be coloring outside the lines. If a conservative had made the same points, it would be easier to process. It would make sense in the ideologically polarized world we've constructed.

And that's disappointing. Immigration is not a left-wing or right-wing issue. It's just an issue. Most people who support the 287(g) program no more want the police actively targeting undocumented workers to deport than most opponents want the government giving illegal immigrants unfettered access to public services.

Liberals tend to oppose some commonsense immigration reforms, not because they find them so widlly discordant with their own values. They oppose them because conservatives support them.

After all, if 287(g) is supported by the "ignorant" and the "reactionary," then it must really be a covert program designed to rid Nashville of its Hispanic population. Right?

On the flip side, conservatives tend to think that if progressives are amenable to something like guest worker programs or other fixes short of outright restriction, then it must be a backdoor ploy to throw open our nation to the world's undesirables.

Compromise becomes impossible because we constantly question the motives of the opposition.

The sad part is that, in the end, reasonable immigration policy benefits both the principled Right and Left. Only the most cynical corporate apologists looking to keep undocumented cheap labor in the shadows wants the status quo. Most people just want a reasonable policy that shepherds a manageable number of immigrants through the citizenship process as smoothly and fairly as possible.

The Left doesn't truly want the border gates flung open so that cheap labor continues to depress the wages of the American working class, and the Right doesn't want to erect a fence and keep the world at arms length because deep down they know that our way of life is dependent on immigrant labor.

On immigration and other matters, it's not the policies that stand in the way of compromise so much as ideological stereotypes. Once people realize that it's OK to come to an understanding with someone they're politically programmed to resist, the faster many of our most important and divisive problems will be resolved.

Kleinheider is NashvillePost.com's political blogger. Visit him at http://postpolitics.net

16 Comments on this post:

By: idgaf on 10/26/09 at 6:11

If they didn't enter and remain in the country legally they are not immigrants but invaders.

By: 2476 on 10/26/09 at 6:54

If they enter this country illegally, then they started out breaking the law and should be prosecuted when they are caught doing anything. Especially applying for work or going to hospital emergency rooms. For every one that is caught Elliot Ozment should have to be their lawyer free of charge.

By: NonyaBidness on 10/26/09 at 7:50

I take it that the comments by 'idgaf" and "2467" are exactly the kind of ideological stances that Mr. Klienheider believes aren't helpng, That's the flaw in you're argument A.C. I don't think that there are very many members of this so called "principled Right" that you speak of.

By: bfra on 10/26/09 at 8:10

idgaf & 2467 are exactly correct in their "stances". Nonya is the only one that seems ignorant of the law!

By: Kosh III on 10/26/09 at 10:29

"If they didn't enter and remain in the country legally they are not immigrants but invaders"

Like the invaders in 1607 in Jamestown and 1620 in New England?

By: pswindle on 10/26/09 at 1:06

If they are not in our country legally, they need to be forced to leave. If their children were born here, they need to take their children with them. We need to pass a law as in France, if the parents are not here legally, the children can not be legal citizens.

By: slzy on 10/26/09 at 7:03

the left wants their votes,the right wants us to subsidize their illegal workers. everybody else wants them out.

By: IVenick on 10/27/09 at 6:30

The question is whether you want to make points in a partisan battle or meaningfully engage in efforts to solve real problems. Kudos for the voice of reason.

By: DEBORAHNEWBERN on 10/27/09 at 6:56

debronna

By: DEBORAHNEWBERN on 10/27/09 at 6:57

debronna

By: DEBORAHNEWBERN on 10/27/09 at 7:09

If they are not in our country legally, they need to be forced to leave. If their children were born here, they need to take their children with them. We need to pass a law as in France, if the parents are not here legally, the children can not be legal citizens.

I love it.....

This the way it should be... I work in the health field and we didn't get a raise this year because of all the free heath care we have to provide large % of it to mexican family's and the fact they can have 5 kids and it not cost them a dime. But let us Americans not pay for a child birth and they take our pay check......Is it best to not work and get all the freeby's? .......Be in American illegally and break the law when you cross the border. But we should welcome you with open arms. I think not.....Then you make money in America, don't spend it here, send it back to the rest of your family that is still there and we wonder why America is in the shape it is financially. We support the world with freeby's......Come on over!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By: millenboy on 10/27/09 at 11:06

Native Americans understand the consequences of uncontrolled immigration

By: pandabear on 10/27/09 at 12:54

" By: pswindle on 10/26/09 at 2:06

If they are not in our country legally, they need to be forced to leave. If their children were born here, they need to take their children with them. We need to pass a law as in France, if the parents are not here legally, the children can not be legal citizens."

Here here !

By: Blanketnazi2 on 10/27/09 at 2:52

By: IVenick on 10/27/09 at 7:30
The question is whether you want to make points in a partisan battle or meaningfully engage in efforts to solve real problems. Kudos for the voice of reason.

The voice of reason doesn't often appear on this board!

By: govskeptic on 10/27/09 at 6:21

The voice of reason is owned by the "progressives", as is
intelligence, reasonableness, tolerance, and problem solving. If you don't agree or if you hate paying through the nose for all these progressive programs then your just an uninformed and uneducated southern redneck.

By: sidneyames on 10/28/09 at 5:37

Been working 3 days; missed all the hoopla on this CP.

I'd like to mention that my family came here about 5 generations ago. There were no laws. They didn't have to obey anything.

But now, we are a society of laws. And I'll bet my family would obey them because I do. Ill-egal is illegal. So what part of "do the right thing" don't the sneakers understand? I'm for legal immigraion only.