Time: Friend or Foe for Immigration Reform?

mexican repatriation

Historians estimate that during the Great Depression’s “Mexican Repatriation” approximately 60% of those deported were U.S. citizens, and most of the rest were here legally. (1936 photo by Dorothea Lange)

A hardwired instinct is to turn inwards in times of crisis.  In the case of the recent Boston bombings, we see our natural emotional reactions at work – Americans are fearful, Americans are turning inward, and Americans are seeking to keep strangers out.

Put it all together and immigration reform looks more and more difficult.

Immigrants are no strangers to being the scapegoats of the visceral reactions that come in times of crisis.  The last 100 years has seen several instances of Americans turning inward and not only shunning but scapegoating immigrants.

To begin, there was the internment of German and Japanese immigrants during the World Wars.  Then, during the Great Depression there were the roundups and mass deportations of Mexican immigrants and citizens.  And most recently there is the racial profiling and harassment Arab-Americans have been subject to.

So in the current political context, it is perfectly normal to see why there are rumblings to seal up the borders and halt immigration.  But while the response to turn away from the immigrant may be a natural response it’s not a rational response.  The most rational response to the domestic terror attack is to push forward immigration reform—policy that makes us safer by better tracking those immigrants who are here and who are seeking to enter.

But the problem is that this type of big picture or reasoned thinking takes time to kick in.  In the wake of a crisis, emotions are in the driver’s seat.  Rational and level-headed thinking lags a bit behind the visceral.

Herein lies the rub.  In order for the rational part of our thinking to kick in we need time.  With regards to the immigration discussion, time would allow folks to see that not going through with an immigration reform makes us less safe.  However, too much time is a thief of momentum.  And immigration reform, as any type of complex legislation, lives and dies on momentum.

What we have is a Catch-22.  Time allows cooler heads to prevail.  In the case of immigration reform that means seeing the likes of Rand Paul understand that pressing “pause” on immigration reform is counterproductive to our national security.  But time also allows for momentum to fizzle.

The question in moving forward with immigration reform is whether to proceed more slowly or charge ahead.  Neither strategy is ideal, but the charging ahead is the lesser of two evils.

If immigration reform is placed on the back burner, even for a couple of weeks, it will die.

There is only so much attention that law makers can give to any one area before their attention gets pulled elsewhere.  Also, if lawmakers do not pass immigration reform before summer recess the emotional voices of those that think that immigration makes us less safe could overpower the debate.  The last thing immigration reform needs is the health care town hall meetings from 2009.

victoria defrancesco sotoTime usually heals all.  But in the case of immigration reform time turns out being more of a foe than a friend.  To see immigration reform become a reality the Gang of Eight, the White House, and immigration advocates must charge forward with their reasoned arguments highlighting the greater good of immigration reform.

Now more than ever time is of the essence.

Victoria Defrancesco Soto
Dr. VMDS

Friday, 27 May 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on April 27, 2013
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About Victoria DeFrancesco Soto

Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and a Faculty Fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. She received her Ph.D. from Duke University in 2007 during which time she was a National Science Foundation Fellow. DeFrancesco Soto was recently named one of the top 12 scholars in the country by Diverse magazine.

Victoria’s research analyzes how human thought and emotion shapes political behavior. Her academic work focuses on: campaigns and elections, political marketing, race and ethnic politics, and immigration. Her academic research has been widely published in scholarly journals and edited volumes. In 2008, Dr. DeFrancesco Soto was Northwestern University’s principal investigator for the Big Ten Battleground Poll, a public opinion survey of voters for the 2008 Presidential election. She is currently working on a book manuscript that analyzes the emergence of conservative feminism.