May 6, 2008

Do you have to be pro-illegal or pro-immigrant to want change in immigration policy?

Immigrant-rights activists often consider themselves to be pro-immigrant, and deem their political opponents to be “anti-immigrant.” However, many of those who are labeled “anti-immigrant” question this label, while calling their opponents “pro-illegals.” Lou Dobbs, for example, insists that he is not anti-immigrant; he simply is opposed to illegal immigration. And, the conservative Center for Immigration Studies considers itself to be a “pro-immigrant, low-immigration think-tank.” This is reminiscent of the pro-life/pro-choice movements and demonstrates how important language is in terms of framing debates.

Given the importance of language, I would remind both sides of this debate that immigration policy affects not only immigrants but also citizens. It also affects not only immigrants who are out-of-status, but also those who are legal permanent residents. Thus, I suggest we change the terms of the debate by discussing the impact of harsh immigration policies on citizens. You do not in fact have to be pro-illegal or even pro-immigrant to see the negative impact that punitive immigration policies have had on U.S. citizens.

Since 1996, Congress has passed a series of harsh legislative measures that have had negative impacts on both U.S. citizens and non- U.S. citizens. Because of these laws, US citizens have been separated from their spouses, parents, children, and friends. Immigration raids have scared whole communities, and family members have had to watch their loved ones suffer in immigration prisons. The debate about immigration policy, then, is not simply a debate about whether or not one is pro- or anti- immigrant, but whether or not one thinks that people’s fundamental human rights should be respected.

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