Hope Amidst Instability: The Immigration Debate, Organized Crime, and a School in El Salvador

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

 The government shut down, the longest in our nation’s history, has weighed on me as I struggle to understand the reasons for it. To me, it serves as an example of the deep cultural divide that has a vice-like grip on the collective American mind. We are attuned to find fault with others, to demonize them, and feel our moral superiority towards those who hold a different worldview.

I have written several blogs on the topic of the cultural divide and will continue to do so as I prepare my book, Divided: Colliding Ways We See the World and What We Can Do About It, for publication. But the debate about immigration has temporarily sidelined my writing, as I look into this no-win issue more closely. Another issue I want to highlight in this blog series, ignored on the left and touted for political gain on the right, is the proliferation of organized crime in Latin America. And ending this series on an uplifting note, I will describe the work of a non-profit school in El Salvador, Amun Shea.

Immigration Debate

The immigration debate and how we respond to this issue tells us a lot about our particular worldview. It is mainly a battle between the progressive view and traditionalist view. There is a lot between the extremes of these views on immigration that is being silenced by the shouting match on the two sides. [image map]

Those holding a globalized worldviews (see Five Worldviews: How We See the World) wviewscoverhave encouraged immigration (legal and illegal) in order to have a plentiful labor supply and continuous economic growth. But those holding a progressive worldview tend to feel that compassion for illegal immigrant “victims” overrides the traditionalist resentment that illegal immigrants who break the law and “cut in line” ahead of others who are trying legally to migrate into the U.S is morally superior.

Perhaps one of the reasons that immigration has become such a hot button issue is that legal immigrants to the United States are now at their highest level ever, just over 37,000,000 legal immigrants. Since 2000, legal immigrants to the United States number approximately 1,000,000 per year, of whom about 600,000 are Change of Status and already live in the U.S.

immigration graph

Those who are traditionalists feel overwhelmed by this number because of job competition and other reasons, and have elected Donald Trump to do something about it. Progressives, who generally have not been directly affected by this competition, feel compassion towards the world’s downtrodden and want to help them.

However, the debate has become so mired in political muck that it is hard for us to think about the issue in a clear way. Both sides seem out of touch with the reality of the situation. There has to be something in between Pelosi’s statement that the wall is immoral and Trump’s declaration of building a wall along the entire border (although he has retracted this sentiment).

The number of failed states is increasing around the world, many of them in our own backyard (Venezuela for example). This means more people will be seeking to flee these states as violent mafia gangs step into the political vacuum. The rich countries, no matter what their compassion level, cannot take in all these desperate people. Who should be left behind and who should be taken in? A real moral quandary.

Confusing and outdated immigration policies in the U.S., encourage human traffickers to charge exorbitant sums to transport poor and vulnerable people to the U.S. border. Many face abuse, kidnapping, and extortion, along the way. This needs to end.

Illegal immigration is a serious issue in the U.S. and should not be reduced to only a compassion for those attempting to immigrate into this country. Distinction should be made between legal and illegal immigration, since most Americans are in favor of legal immigration. Open borders is irresponsible and could result in catastrophe for our nation. As an historian, I have seen it repeated numerous times in world history, all with the same dire results.

The immigration debate is one of those issues that has many tendrils radiating out from the center, making it even more difficult to address. Failed states, poverty, effects of climate change, corruption, organized crime, and many other issues contribute to the dilemma. To me, the right and left perspective is needed in this debate to hammer out sensible solutions to an issue in which no one will be happy with the outcome. Hopefully, calmer minds will prevail and some reasonable, fair, and lasting policies can be established.

The next blog in the series will look at organized crime in Latin America.

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