Illegal immigration, dreamers, and mixed messages

I’m a bit of a hawk on illegal immigration; well, in theory. I have a liberal friend who disagrees with having national borders to begin with, though as well-meaning as is her position on pan-citizenship, I’ve never been convinced by it. The world may someday show me to be wrong on this, but as for now I support each country’s right to control its borders, free from encroachment and interference from without.

Lawful immigration is a country’s way of determining who will be allowed to put down roots in the geography under its jurisdiction. When individuals override those immigration laws, they exercise a right they do not have. They are substituting their own judgment for that of the country’s citizens, an offense that justifies punishment or deportation. The right to immigrate to the United States is exercised by those who legitimately speak for the United States—our elected government—not persons who wish to come and reside here. That said, I must explain the hesitation that causes me to add the proviso, “in theory.”

Part of my training in psychology dealt with behavioral communication as well as that which is written or spoken. Our behavior frequently embodies messages that are more intended, clearer, and more authoritative than our explicit language. Consider parents saying to their child with regard to some action, “If you do that again, you’ll have no television tonight.” Let’ say that when the child continues the action, the parents not only repeat the admonition, but end up allowing television anyway. Now, what would you say was the parents’ message to the child?

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to see that the relevant but unspoken message is, “It doesn’t matter that you’re doing that, except that I’ll speak to you disagreeably.” We have all seen parents who send this obvious but unspoken message, then when provoked enough turn on the child with punishment for disobeying. My point here is that the child has not disobeyed. He or she has accurately figured out and followed the real (behavioral) parental message, not the pretended (verbal) message. In frustration, the parents finally change the rules, so that now they do mean the verbal admonition, when before they clearly didn’t. But they give the child no signal that the meaning of their words is going to change.

Over decades, the United States has sent discrepant messages about illegal immigration, particularly that which crosses our border with Mexico. Our laws said clearly it was illegal. The behavior of employers in the United States said, as they still do, “come on anyway, we have employment for you.” In fits and starts, we have cracked down on those who accepted the virtual invitation, showing that sometimes and in some ways we actually mean the words. A wink and a nod are effective tactics for nullifying the rule of law, but doing so in a way that enables us to have our cake and eat it.

Although there have been efforts to act more honorably with regard to this issue, they’ve tended to be half-hearted, used as a political football, or workable but not sustained. Now the matter is again animated with a political environment of conservatives versus liberals, and politically courageous versus politically faint-hearted. Elected officials are often inclined to avoid decisions for which there may be no winners. Tossing difficult matters between executive and legislative branches has become time-honored.

But now there’s a new element: Dreamers—young people, brought to the United States by their undocumented parents, who’ve grown up here almost as integrated into the American experience as the native born. Through no fault of their own, often not even speaking their parents’ native language, they are vulnerable to deportation. The temporary refuge (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) they’ve been granted is currently endangered by political currents. Given decades of our mixed messages, our duplicity, our dishonesty about those messages, we now jerk the Dreamers about, hiding behind the fear of appearing to support “amnesty” when by our actions we’ve already granted amnesty many times over. Perhaps it is no surprise that we are more concerned with saving face—veiling the inhumane discrepancy in our messages—than with simple compassion toward youth innocently caught up in an adult stand-off.

If Make America Great Again has meaning beyond a throwaway motto, we must examine how such an embarrassingly mean-spirited action can be justified by a great nation.




About John Bruce Carver

I am a U. S. citizen living in Atlanta, Georgia, having grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and graduating from Chattanooga High School. I served in the Electronic Security Command of the U. S. Air Force before receiving a B.S. degree in business/economics and an M.Ed. in educational psychology, both at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I then completed a Ph.D. in clinical (and research) psychology at Emory University. I have two daughters and three granddaughters. An ardent international traveller, I have been in over 70 countries for business and pleasure. My reading, other than novels, tends to be in history, philosophy, government, and light science. I identify philosophically as a secular humanist, in complete awe of the universe including my fellows and myself. I am married to my best friend, Miriam, formerly of the United Kingdom and Canada.
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2 Responses to Illegal immigration, dreamers, and mixed messages

  1. Dani thel D. Hull says:

    You give a very “fair and balanced” analysis of the “Dreamer” problem, but needs your suggested solution(s) to be of any use. Engineers are taught to (a) Define the problem, (b) Examine possible solutions, (c) Test the solutions that show the greatest chance of success, e.g., with a prototype, and (d) choose the solution (with consideration of cost) that performs best for implementation. Unfortunately this approach may not work for the Dreamers, because it doesn’t consider anything (e.g., emotions) other than technical issues. The technical issue is, as you pointed out, is what the law says. Don’t like the law, then change it. I suppose that is what will happen during this next six months as the problem has been handed to the Congress to solve like it should have been in the first place. If it were up to me, I would stop DACA now, as Trump has done, and grandfather in the ones that are here already under Obama’s illegal executive order. For those 21 years old or older, Grant U.S. citizenship immediately to the ones that can prove financial independence (i.e. not reliant on welfare) and give the ones 21 or older that can’t show financial independence one year to do so or be deported. For those younger than 21, let them stay in the U.S. on work permits until they reach 21 years of age and then apply the same criteria as above.

  2. Ron Nickle says:

    Good post John. You make some very good points. However I must express my appreciation (if not support) of the concept of pan-citizenship. I see ourselves as “citizens” of the planet primarily, then citizens of a country/nation. Lots for us to discuss in the weeks ahead!

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