Claims of Compassion and Racism on Immigration Policy

It was the end of yet another long day. The final bell would ring in less than five minutes. Staving off exhaustion, I leaned back in my chair and listened to the bright young man before me describe his big plans for the future.

“In a few years, I’m gonna have my own business, and we’re gonna to do nothing but concrete. I’m gonna be rich, too.” He wore a North Face jacket and a pair of $200 cowboy boots—a good sign for sure, if money was the goal. He continued, “I’m gonna do it by hiring new people who just got here. I’ll tell them, ‘Five dollars an hour, take it or leave it.’ If they ask for more, I’ll just find someone else that doesn’t have anything.”

This rather callous statement surprised me, not because it showed a lack of business savvy, but because the young man before me was himself an illegal immigrant.

Pablo (not his real name) was charming, smart, and brutally honest. He made no secret about being undocumented, describing in detail to the class how people from Mexico and Central America rode the train—“La Bestia”—to the United States. He told us of the coyotes who smuggled them in—“$10,000 guarantee, $5,000 with some risk”– and how people kept that amount saved up in case they ever got deported. Some turned up again in as little as two weeks.

Central Americans Undertake Grueling Journey Through Mexico To U.S.

I start with this story for two reasons. First, many commentators have already written excellent philosophical pieces analyzing the current border crisis, especially Victor Davis Hanson and Peggy Noonan. If I didn’t begin with my own experience, I’d have nothing new to add. Second, Pablo’s statements to me and my other experiences with immigrant students have led me to some fairly obvious but important conclusions.

Immigrants come to the United States mainly for economic opportunity and political stability, two things usually lacking in their nations of origin. They don’t risk everything they have to enjoy our superior climate or public transportation, often missing their home countries dearly. Economic opportunity depends largely on supply and demand, while political stability rests on respect for the rule of law. Ironically, both of these are undermined by illegal immigration.

This is why immigration policy is so emotional for ordinary Americans—not because the majority of the country is racist, but because we understand that losing control of our borders erodes the very qualities that make us an attractive destination in the first place.

To people who care about national sovereignty, the charge of racism is particularly frustrating, though not at all unfamiliar. The logic of the Left usually goes something like this:

  1. Don’t think employers should have to provide plans covering 100% of their employee’s birth control choices, including abortifacients? You must hate women.
  2. Don’t think the institution of marriage, having anchored human society for the last 5,000+ years, should be redefined to include same-sex couples? You must be a homophobe.
  3. Don’t support the expansion of the welfare state beyond what we can actually pay for? Clearly, you hate the poor.
  4. Don’t support affirmative action (especially as it has been shown to hurt minorities)? Racist.
  5. Don’t agree with President Obama’s policies? See above.

This is not to deny that some people actually are racist, homophobic, and sexist. But in the political arena, these charges are often leveled to halt honest debate and scare potential critics into going along with the Left’s transformative agenda. Having eschewed reason, progressives claim a monopoly on compassion and attempt to discredit all who stand in their way. The race card is their most potent weapon in this task, and they know it.

It is true that in the past our nation’s immigration laws reflected racist fears, most notably the Chinese Exclusion Act. But it is also true that when a three decades-long wave of immigration was cut off during World War I, working class wages rose. In particular, African Americans found new opportunities working in Northern factories.

For most people, concerns about immigration have little to do with race, culture, or language. I’m not the kind of person who gets offended when asked to push “1” for English. I wish I were proficient enough to “oprima numero dos” for Spanish. I would love to see Pablo able to use his talents to enrich Mexico or the United States—whichever he chooses. I love Hispanic culture– the people, the music, the food. We share a passion for soccer and the Catholic Church.

But I am deeply worried about the repercussions of our apparent disregard for the rule of law. As Noonan asks, “Is a nation without borders really a nation at all?” What happens when localities in Texas and Arizona and California are forced to declare bankruptcy because they cannot continue to provide services to illegal immigrants? What happens when Al Qaeda realizes they can send 17-year-old recruits (or people claiming to be seventeen) into our country via Mexico? What happens when the next decomposing corpse of a child is discovered in a Texas desert?

When I first heard about the crisis along our southern border—thousands of unaccompanied minors arriving with nothing but the clothes on their backs—my first thought was that it was all so predictable. President Obama made an election-year promise not to deport young illegals, and what do you know—more young illegals show up. The idea that our laws exist but are not enforced is dangerous and will not be limited to immigration. It is this sort of lawlessness many immigrants are attempting to flee.


The economic side of the coin is troubling too, although its effects may be felt more gradually. Like Pablo’s business plan, it boils down to supply and demand. Companies would rather hire the people willing to do the job for the least pay. When countries are able to regulate the flow of new immigrants, they can ensure that immigration enriches our society and benefits our economy. If not, new immigrants have less incentive to assimilate and their numbers exert downward pressure on wages, especially when unemployment is already high. The groups most affected by this competition for scarce jobs are African-Americans and working-class whites, not the wealthy elites clamoring to be recognized for their compassion.

But all this talk about the long-term political and economic dangers of illegal immigration neglects the most pressing aspect of the present crisis. Children are being killed and maimed falling off of trains. Girls as young as ten and eleven are being raped, nearly a third of all who make the perilous journey. The ones lucky enough to arrive in one piece find themselves herded into overcrowded shelters—we may as well call them refugee camps—where they sit and wait, without parents or any certainty of a safe future. Churches and other religious organizations are being told they cannot help, even banned from donating teddy bears. How can anyone call this compassion?


Some suggest the answer is just to let anyone into the country who wants to come here. We are told that open borders work. We are told that our government owes just as much to a woman in Honduras who puts her two kids on a train as it does to a factory worker in Pennsylvania or a housewife in Arizona struggling to stay current on their mortgage payments.

America is a compassionate nation. When disaster strikes anywhere around the world, we are the first to offer help. We take seriously the Christian call to charity. We will have to deal with the fact that our government’s lax enforcement of our current immigration laws– encouraged by self-interested business leaders and irresponsible politicians at the expense of the middle class– has resulted in more illegal immigrants living here than ever will be or should be deported.

But for the time being, we have a real-life crisis on our hands akin to an invading army or a Hurricane Katrina. We must act to secure the border immediately using whatever means necessary, including the National Guard. We have to send the message to our southern neighbors that American legal status is not the right of anyone under eighteen who can get here. Children should be returned to the ones best able to care for them– their parents. As the one who issued the executive order halting the enforcement of current law, President Obama should be the one to remind Mexico and Honduras and Guatemala that we are still a country with borders that must be respected. That would be the compassionate thing to do.

2 thoughts on “Claims of Compassion and Racism on Immigration Policy

  1. This was a very challenging piece for me, because of the issue of children. I met a woman who had been smuggled here as a child from Columbia, bounced around between foster parents, spent time in juvie and in jail for drug possession, lost her upper lip and was wheel-chair bound. She was at least in her late thirties, had been here longer than she could remember, and had still not yet achieved legal citizenship. She has no family to return to in Columbia, and she will be in a much worse position in that country than in America. Why has her journey toward naturalization been so long, and where is she supposed to go? I think about situations like these when thinking about the questions of immigration law. A lot of the dangers children go through are a result of immigration being so difficult. What would an open border policy look like for the US? What leads us to conclude that bigger walls and more guards are a better solution than paths to amnesty and citizenship?

    I completely agree that the motive for secure borders is not inherently motivated by a racism or a lack of compassion any more than it would be for anyone in any country. It is a problem, though, that racism is so easily allowed into the rhetoric of stronger immigration law. People across the political divide will come toward more agreement on the issue if a)liberals stop accusing conservatives of racism by merit of their position and b)conservatives will call one another out when racism overtly rears its ugly head.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Caleb. I agree with many of your points. As I said, it is not realistic or desirable to deport the millions who are here illegally. I think ultimately there needs to at least be a path to legalization for most (not gang members or criminals) and our immigration system should be reformed to make it easier for hard-working immigrants to come here legally. But we have to balance our humanitarian concerns for potential immigrants with our concern for Americans who are already struggling to find good-paying jobs. Also, the first step has to be securing the border.

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