As one who has spent the better part of four-plus decades in pursuit of fine tuning public policies across a broad spectrum of issue areas, one thing that has remained imperative has been my unrelenting adherence to the notion that public policy is meant to benefit the largest number of citizens, particularly those less fortunate than others. So the defining line must always be how can we improve life and the prospects of opportunity to the greatest number of citizens and use this as the measuring stick for success.
As we plow headfirst through the coronavirus pandemic that affects a global population, there is little doubt that it is of dire and immediate concern. However, we also continue to deal with a level of political polarization that seriously chips away at the basic principles of small “d” democracy and an inherent empathy and compassion that has characterized our nation for the past quarter of a millennium. The task of policy making has multiplied many times in its complexity.
The competition between political and ideological forces that faces our nation complicates public policy making in a forceful and destructive way. It places even the most rational and experienced policy maker in a bind. That competition includes policies addressing both domestic and international terrorism, civil rights including voting rights, economic inequality, racism, criminal justice reform. It’s an attack upon our basic federalist organizational framework where states challenge the constitutionality of the federal government on issues like abortion, gun control, homelessness, climate change, environmental justice, access to equal education and a plethora of other issues, a list too challenging to prioritize and too serious to ignore.
The issue of immigration and the ongoing crisis at our southern border has bedeviled policymakers for the better part of the past century. Recent ecological calamities, political strife, and a growing and persistent chasm between rich and poor have exacerbated a massive influx of migration to our country that has placed our nation under an enormous strain and threatens the tenets of freedom and liberty that has made us the envy of most of the world.
We are a nation of immigrants, and aside from the economic benefits that we have derived from our hearty acceptance of workers willing to work in jobs that many Americans are unwilling to accept and the low wages that most of those jobs pay, we have provided a safe, or at the least a safer, haven than most immigrants would find they were relegated to in their home countries. However we now find ourselves unwilling to entertain acceptance of those less fortunate than ourselves and debating whether we either need or desire a border wall designed to keep people out. It makes a mockery of our heritage and signals a lack of compassion and/or willingness to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
As best as I can discern no one has an answer that serves to bring a compassionate solution to the table and thus the crisis thrives to the point where partisan and ideological differences prevent us from checking the issue off the list.
If encouraging those who wish to either seek asylum or work industriously to avail themselves and their families of the opportunities that exist in America is to be curtailed but certainly not abandoned, then we have an obligation as the richest country in the world to do all we can to bolster change in their home countries to reduce the need to immigrate elsewhere. In other words, let us focus on trying to improve the deficiencies in their home countries in order to cut down on the need to leave.
We simply cannot afford to turn our backs on the families and children who are in danger—-physically, sociologically or psychologically–—under repressive or corrupt regimes. We must feel the compunction to share our wealth to our brothers and sisters who share the planet with us. The issues that plague many of these countries will ultimately end up on our doorstep, much as the issues like climate change that threaten all humans who inhabit the Earth will require solutions if not in the immediate short term then surely in the long run.
As the world continues to shrink exponentially and as human kind continues to struggle with extraordinary challenges to survival, we all must solve this together. Thus the key to solving the problem of mass immigration is to formulate policies that both encourage legal immigration and helping to solve the misfortunes that propel immigration in the first place in their home countries.
But simply shunning them away at the border and forcing them to return to dangerous conditions is not the American way. We must exhibit the will to continue to welcome immigrants with open arms while improving life conditions that will curtail the need to leave in the first place. This is the public policy challenge that must be solved.