A story in New York Times Magazine this week takes a long look at the movement to effectively end immigration limits. Headline:
Is It Possible to Resist Deportation in Trump's America?
Living under draconian state laws, activists honed an effective strategy for keeping undocumented immigrants in the country. Can the same tools work today?
Do one-sided, anti-enforcement stories like this move politicians toward or away from the goal expressed in the headline?
Given that the Obama administration's policies were aimed at keeping 87 percent of unauthorized migrants in the country, this bit from the story stands out:
"...one great lesson of the past eight years is that Democrats are unreliable allies, willing to place other policy goals, like the Affordable Care Act, above the needs of the undocumented."
A reader comments:
"It's this kind of sentence that gets my gall. I am a Democrat and why shouldn't Democrats focus on policy goals for the majority of its constituents above the needs of undocumented immigrants. While I am sympathetic to the plight that many are now facing, they need to be aware of their own part. No American has forced them into this situation. I also believe we should hold employers of undocumented immigrants much more accountable.
"That said, the Democrats should beware of messaging on this issue. Again, I am a Democrat as are many of my friends. At least everyone I know believes borders should be enforced and that current and future illegal immigration should be controlled. No one I know also believes this is a priority over other issues that are important to them. Contrary to what most Republicans think, from what I know, MANY Democrats I know firmly believe in the rule of law when it comes to illegal immigration from any country. It would be wise not to take our future for granted in critical looming elections. I don't vote Democrat because of this issue."
Hillary Clinton promised to go further than Obama in permitting people in the country illegally to stay. Donald Trump campaigned on immigration enforcement and won over Democrats and Obama voters on his way to electoral victory. In an interview the day after the election, President Obama said "It's going to be important for Democrats and immigration-rights activists to recognize that for the majority of the American people, borders mean something."
Earlier this month, the New York Times identified immigration as "a potentially troublesome fissure for Democrats":
"Their party has staked out an activist position built around protecting undocumented immigrants. But it is one that has alienated many who might have been expected to support it."
When the media moves away from false frameworks ("pro-immigration" vs. "anti-immigration"), the American people are revealed to be much more interesting than previously believed.
Speaking on the podcast Left, Right & Center last month, the opinion journalist Kelli Goff explored the media's immigration blindspot, and the story that a lot of people missed (any transcription errors are mine):
"...Those of us in media got a lot wrong in the last election...but one thing I did see coming is that I did feel that there was a huge disconnect between progressives and members of the media were reading how the issue of illegal immigration was playing for Trump....
"....I knew for a fact that there are plenty of really great people, including members of my own family, who feel strongly about wanting people treated humanely but they didn't like the attitude that seemed to be the policy position of the Obama administration which is if someone breaks the law "only" - quote, unquote - once by coming into this country illegally, we should look the other way because the Obama administration has decided that's not a real crime. A lot of Americans don't agree with that..."
The host of Left, Right & Center, Josh Barro also wrote about the attitudes that turn off Democratic voters like the commenter above:
"In recent years, Democrats have come to talk about deportation in the same wrongheaded way Occupy Wall Street activists talked about foreclosure: as a horrible, heartless thing to do, rather than a sometimes regrettably necessary action in nation of laws."
This is exactly right. In order to have an honest and informed debate, we need to see the unauthorized migrants in the New York Times Magazine story as human beings AND recognize that in order to have a credible immigration policy, even terrific people have to be subject to the law.
"Given the need for limits," Barro writes, "you will have to come up with some rules about who gets told no, and why."
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Wed, Jun 7th 2017 @ 12:25pm EDT