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.
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.
Time 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
Friday, 27 May 2013