Immigration debates often send people running for the hills, but the recent exchange between White House Advisor Stephen Miller and CNN's Jim Acosta sent people running for the dictionary.
Merriam Webster reported a spike in people looking up the word "cosmopolitan" after the Acosta-Miller dust up, and the fourth estate led the nation in a hunt for the true meaning of the word "cosmopolitan."
Columnist Kathleen Parker suggested that Miller might have meant "globalist or elitist," which makes some sense given the populist wave Trump rode to the White House.
A columnist for the Washington Post took Miller's saw Parker's "elitist" and raised it with a ”swampy elitism" and went so far as to suggest that it is actually Miller who is cosmopolitan because he lives in an expensive apartment.
Acosta himself took "cosmopolitan" as a commentary on his living accommodations.
Wait, didn't cosmopoli-gate start with a discussion about green card policy? It's so typical of immigration politics for the conversation to quickly steer away from actual policy. I don't know what Miller meant exactly with his jab but it is safe to say he wasn't accusing Acosta of living in a nice house.
The media is missing an opportunity here to elevate the debate. The word "cosmopolitan" means something specific in an immigration context. In his 2015 column, ”Two Theories of Immigration," Mark R. Amstutz, Professor of political science at Wheaton College wrote:
"The norms of international law stipulate that people have a right to emigrate from their homeland but not a right to immigrate to any particular country. Right of entry can be granted only by the country of destination. Scholars of international relations have developed two approaches to guide these considerations: communitarianism and cosmopolitanism. The policies we favor follow from our loyalty to one of these two approaches. The communitarian favors a more restrictive approach; the cosmopolitan a more open one.
Both seek to promote human dignity."
The communitarian, Amstutz explains, is ever mindful of how the nation state serves the members of the national community, especially those who are disadvantaged. The cosmopolitan, on the other hand, is suspicious of nation states as entities that emphasize the well-being of their own citizens over those of other countries.
The ethics of immigration require one to consider the impact on citizens of the receiving country, the citizens who remain in the sending countries, and the immigrants themselves. Therefore the tension between the communitarian and the cosmopolitan is and will ever be constant. What happens next in the immigration debate isn't the victory of one view over the other but a temporary armistice that achieves a kind of balance. It will come down - as it always does - to two questions: "how many?" and "how do we get there?".
We have not had an open debate about the numbers for decades. The RAISE Act has given the media a chance to facilitate a long overdue conversation. I hope they won't waste the opportunity quibbling over personal real estate.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Sep 1st 2017 @ 12:05pm EDT