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Getting Into the Weeds

author Published by Andre Barnes

According to an April 1-22 Gallup survey, immigration was named the top problem in the U.S. for the third straight month. But why? It has been my pleasure to speak with Americans around the country to find out. I have also been to the border where I wandered into some tall weeds. There our guide showed us how illegal aliens traversed between land and the Rio Grande river. Oftentimes you have to put yourself there to understand the perspective of someone else.

I take these experiences with me into the classrooms I visit to engage the leaders of tomorrow on the hottest topic going today.

My presentation at Allen University was a little different than my usual format. My gracious host, Dr. Trumpeter, wanted to create a speaker series which included two 15 minute presentations with differing opinions. These presentations would be followed up by Q&A from professors and students. There were a handful of students, professors, activists, and political officials in the audience which made for a very intimate discussion.

Discussing immigration often brings up strong emotions from people and they can be compelled to make incendiary comments. I want to discuss a couple of questions asked and statements made during the presentations to continue the dialog and bring attention to divisions in thought that are thwarting the development of sensible immigration policies. Where are the disconnects and how can we address the emotion attached to differing opinions?

A professor asked the question:

Why do we see more fear mongering about immigration whenever we are in an election year? 

My response:

The issues we are seeing at the border are policy driven. This means that elected officials have a direct effect on how our immigration policies are implemented. Elected officials are going to say what they think will get people to the polls. The tone of campaigns are not politically correct, rhetoric will sound hateful to some and incite negative responses in others. We should all follow the advice of Barbara Jordan, who said:

Another professor stated, “We can’t live with a large settlement of disenfranchised people”. He began to list some facts about why our system is broken:

  1. They can’t vote in elections and have an effect on policy.
  2. They pay into Social Security but won’t be able to access it because they are not citizens.
  3. Mixed families composed of citizens and non-citizens adds stress about the future.
  4. Unfair long lines that can go 20 or 30 years.(4 million w/ people entering in the 1990s)

 My view is that our system is not broken but the thing that is not working is the ability for Americans to take a clear position on immigration. We are indecisive on the issue and it shows in how we execute our policies. To make matters worse our elected officials are influenced by big business and misinformation. Sheriff Joe  Gonzales, A Sherriff from Valverde County, met with our tour group to discuss his experience with the border crisis when it was at its height. When his presentation concluded we asked what he thought should be done about the crisis and he  stated, “Our immigration policy is a political football and our elected officials punt when they get to the 20 yard line”. The West Virginia state legislature fits the Sheriff’s analogy perfectly. West Virginia had a chance to pass E-verify, with bill HB4759, but when big business began to lobby against it, the bill was killed in the 11th hour.

Many people including this professor make arguments around the disenfranchisement of people. They can’t vote, receive social security, or do not have citizen status which gives them freedoms like American citizens. Should they have those benefits? “Of the roughly 3.5 million undocumented immigrants who entered the country between 2010 and 2017, 65 percent arrived with full permission stamped into their passports” Are these people less guilty because they didn’t initially commit a crime? 

Now that they have been here for years or decades, we need to reward their crimes with the benefits of citizenship? I think these are gray areas that Americans and politicians do not want to address. The Biden administration wants to grant 11 million people, 60 percent of whom overstayed their visas, citizenship.

The presentation at South Carolina State University was totally different. As the great philosopher Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I got punched in more ways than one. I planned on renting a car and getting to my presentation on time. I had to go to three different places to rent a car and I was late to the presentation. The Spring Break rush totally destroyed my plans.

When I finally arrived, I did not have time to set up my powerpoint so I had to wing it in front of 65 students. I had no microphone and I had to walk around the class to hear responses from the students. Such is life on the road. As I discussed the history of immigration and what is happening at our border it began to get ugly. Students began to ask, what is my stake in pushing this “racist” agenda? They even asked, “So you said you work for a racist organization”.  I had to explain myself and present them with the numbers.

NumbersUSA was formed to advocate for the recommendations of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, otherwise known as “The Jordan Commission,” whose chair made clear whose interests they had at heart:

Our Hiring Line Initiative is inspired by Roy Beck’s book detailing the history of how immigration laws have been manipulated to rob descendants of slaves of wealth before it could even be earned.

My stake in all of this is that I am not just some talking head who jumped on the bandwagon last week. My great grandfather was a sharecropper and his father was a slave. I worked in the tobacco field and worked on a farm just like my great grandfather. While I worked in the tobacco field I saw the displacement of black workers. Between middle school and high school I saw that Black workers had been replaced by hispanic workers. 

This is not the fault of the immigrants themselves. They can hardly be blamed for seeking better opportunities here.  Some would argue nor is it the fault of businesses who sought to find the least expensive, legal way to manufacture. Rather, the fault lies squarely with those elected officials, policymakers, who’ve allied themselves with Big Business.

I have talked with Black Americans impacted by policies moving illegal aliens into their neighborhoods in Chicago and New York. I talked to Black Americans about losing recreation centers and seeing illegal aliens receive benefits that have never been extended to Americans. I have been to the border and seen the river where illegal aliens died in each other’s arms. There have been more border deaths during this crisis than in any period since they started keeping records. If you are angry about what I am saying, speak to your elected official. Be angry with them, because the policies they are implementing are allowing this to happen.

My maxim to students is that “all you know is what you have learned, but what you’ve learned is not all that there is to know”. The goal of these presentations is to have a civil discussion about mass immigration. I want to ensure that students have all the facts and that they know where to get primary source information. Whether in the 2024 election or at another time in their lives they will have to make decisions about immigration policies. These policies will affect their communities, their businesses, and their children. Being exposed to different viewpoints about immigration will help them navigate what sensible immigration means to them.

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