When you first arrive, it is hard to tell where El Paso ends, and Ciudad Juárez begins. The cities, economically and socially, melt into each other like the surrounding Chihuahan Desert melts into the horizon.
The region is unlike anything else on the US-Mexico border. Generations of families, billions of dollars in trade, have crisscrossed the border to create an economic and social fabric that is wholly unique.
As Mark J. Seitz, Bishop of the Diocese of El Paso, wrote in his October 13, 2019 Pastoral Letter to the People of God in El Paso, “Despite everything others tell us, we in the borderlands know that this valley between the Sierra Madre and the Rocky Mountains is home to one binational cultural reality. We live in a state of in-betweenness, neither here nor there, neither from here nor from there.”
It is now a region on the precipice.
Over the last few years, El Paso has been the epicenter of a border crisis exacerbated by cruelty. From family separation to the Migrant Protection Protocols, and now the new Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) programs. When it comes to migration policy, El Paso has seen — and is seeing — it all.
These days, President Trump uses campaign rallies to conflate the US-Mexico border with the threat of the coronavirus. And, according to Reuters, the administration is, “considering imposing entry restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border to control the spread of the coronavirus.”
All of which overshadows dramatic changes to legal immigration.
The Times’ Zolan Kanno-Youngs writes that already, “Legal immigration has fallen more than 11 percent,” and, “a steeper drop is looming.” The National Foundation for American Policy found that the, “Trump administration policies are projected to reduce the annual level of legal immigration to the United States by 30%.” Furthermore, “Average annual U.S. labor force growth, a key component of economic growth, will be between 35% and 59% lower.”
In a blog post titled, “Immigration Follies,” the American Action Forum’s Doug Holtz-Eakin takes a look at our nation’s fertility rate and the foreign-born effect on the U.S. economy to make the case we need a more thoughtful approach to immigration.
Doug couldn’t be more correct in his conclusion: “The stretch run of the presidential race will likely feature lots of demagoguery regarding immigrants. If the past is any guide it will be loud, angry, and absolutely incorrect.”
Because, in the coming months, one side of the immigration debate will dehumanize immigrants in an effort to mobilize anger and exert power.
Instead of responding with a righteous anger that mobilizes, but does not persuade, our response needs to acknowledge the intractability that has settled over the immigration debate.
In her 2013 book, “Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict,” Donna Hicks writes, “When we experience a threat to our well-being that causes the breakdown of trust, another instinctive reaction replaces primary empathy: the impulse to fight or flee. … When the threat persists, which happens in intractable conflicts … the self-preservation instincts get stuck in overdrive.”
Our immigration debate, if anything, is a conflict of self-preservation.
Because, as Hicks wrote in the context of international conflicts, “Emotional distress is often ignored, diminished, and even trivialized at the political level.”
Which takes me back to driving along the border on I-10, El Paso to my right, Ciudad Juárez stretching to the left. A wall slicing the region in two.
Bishop Seitz wrote about the wall as, “An open wound through the middle of our sister cities. … a physical reminder of the failure of two friendly nations to resolve their internal and bi-national issues in just and peaceful way.”
The wall, and the policies surrounding it, embody this conflict of self-preservation that is our immigration debate. Where our politics do not allow us to see the dignity of the other.
As he brought his pastoral letter to a close, Bishop Seitz noted the importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the region. The one who says, “to our people today, ‘you count’, you are worth it.”
To the refugee turned away at the border, Bishop Seitz writes that Guadalupe says, “‘you are worth’. To the worker displaced by free trade, she says ‘you are worth’. To the border agent who envisioned giving your life in service to a just cause but now struggle in confusion, and to your family, she says ‘you are worth’. To the family with mixed immigration status, she says, ‘you are worth it.’”
Imagine, for just a minute, if, as advocates for immigrants and immigration, we were to say to Americans with fears and concerns, “you are worth.”
PS. Bonus Read: Jonathan Haggerty, the R Street Institute’s Resident Fellow for Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties and the Forum’s Larry Benenson, Assistant Vice President of Policy & Advocacy, address AG Barr’s approach to “sanctuary cities” in Morning Consult.
PS. Bonus Listen: An Only in America conversation with immigrant entrepreneur Nafy Flately who helps us dispel the myth of the immigrant burden.