What's Tony Thinking

The Immigration Challenge


When we were in Scotland in September, staying on the Isle of Skye, we shared breakfast and conversation, that was both lengthy and significant, with two other couples. One from the Netherlands, the other from Germany.

The German couple were young (30’s I’d guess) professional and educated. And they were adamant. “Merkel must go.” (She has subsequently decided to do just that).

Why? Immigration. The 30-something couple said that “immigration is way out of control.” “There’s no enforcement.” “If people are illegal, nothing happens. If immigrants commit crimes, they are very seldom held accountable.”

These were rational people, not the kind of people given to fear-mongering. But they were clearly upset. There was a serious problem. that wasn’t being acknowledged much less addressed. All over Europe the issues driven by immigration have contributed to a swing to the right in political leadership.

Meanwhile, as the 2018 election approached Donald Trump was fear-mongering on this very issue, declaring a caravan of 500 migrants from Central America an “invasion.” He deployed troops to the border. And, most recently, there have been border closures and use of tear-gas to turn back migrants approaching the U.S. Border. This on top of Trump’s spring policy of separating parents and children.

While it is true that Trump does demagogue this issue, there is a real issue here, one that liberals have to address.

In a recent column Andrew Sullivan argued that liberals and Democrats have to do better on immigration than they have heretofore. They need to do more than condemn Trump.

Here’s Sullivan:

“All of it is putting unprecedented strain on liberal democracy in the West itself. The connection between mass migration and the surge in far-right parties in Europe is now indisputable. Without this issue, Donald Trump would not be president. As we can see right now in front of our eyes, elections can turn on this. Which is why Trump is hyping this caravan story to the heavens — and why, perhaps, the last few weeks have seemed less promising for a “blue wave.”

“David Frum is right: “If liberals insist that only fascists will defend borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals will not do.”

“And unless the Democrats get a grip on this question, and win back the trust of the voters on it, their chance of regaining the presidency is minimal. Until one Democratic candidate declares that he or she will end illegal immigration, period, shift legal immigration toward those with skills, invest in the immigration bureaucracy, and enforce the borders strongly but humanely, Trump will continue to own this defining policy issue in 2020.” (Italics added)

At other points in his article Sullivan describes some of the issues related to asylum claims and to children and families.

Meanwhile, the United Church of Christ has declared itself to be an “Immigrant Welcoming Church,” and urged member congregations to publicly welcome migrants during Advent. Planning has been underway for several weeks for a delegation of UCC clergy to go to the Mexican border to welcome the caravan.

One can be sympathetic to these statements and actions, but also point out that that they fail to address real and complex problems.

In some ways, this foreign policy issue mirrors the domestic policy challenge of homelessness. We are presented with extremes. Criminalize homelessness, on one hand; offer unbounded compassion (and funding), on the other.

I agree with Sullivan that unless Democrats and a Democratic presidential candidate has something more than platitudes to offer, Trump will continue to own the issue and profit from it.

And I think the churches must acknowledge there are real issues here that are not addressed by only deploring and denouncing the actions of the Trump administration.

The young German couple had no love for Trump or for right-wing parties in their own country. But they were clear that the waves of immigration that had come to their country in the last decade threatened to overwhelm their society and its ability to function.

Though we are not at that point in the U. S., that young, German couple sounded, at least to me, a warning that needs to be heeded.


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