Immigration Reform Debate Prep 101: Understanding your opponents' arguments

Here is this week's guest post from Robert Gittelson:

I try to be a well informed advocate. I voraciously read everything that I can find that’s being said on the subject of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. I might note that in an effort to be as well informed as possible, I not only read what my fellow advocates are writing, I especially try to read what the opponents of CIR are writing. As Sun-tzu said some 2,500 years ago, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

Actually, I truly do believe that what he said is very good advise. In point of fact, I have often ventured into the lion’s den, and have written or spoken to audiences that I knew going in were staunchly against what I was about to tell them. There is something distinctly rewarding about swaying someone to consider your point of view, through logic and factual evidence. At some point in the upcoming discussion over the pros and cons of CIR, both sides on this debate are going to have to talk to each other, and see if enough common ground can be identified to structure a deal. If all that each side does in this debate is to preach to their own choir, then neither one of us will succeed in getting our message across (the aisle).

The other day, I watched the Kennedy funeral. I was struck by something that Ted Jr. said. He talked about how his father, “taught him to get along with Republicans.” Perhaps that is one of the most important legacies that Senator Kennedy left to all of us. Certainly, that particular talent is in short supply on Capitol Hill.

Yesterday, I discovered a new article on the internet that caught my eye. It was titled, “Since When Does Immigration Reform Mean Open Borders and Amnesty?”.  I got myself a glass of iced tea, settled myself comfortably on my office couch, and looked forward to a nice and incendiary read that promised to set my teeth on edge. However, it proved to be, in the parlance of President Obama, a “teachable moment.”

The article was, in fact, written by an author on the far right side of this debate. By any measure, this gentleman, Carl Braun, is a very well credentialed “anti.” And yet, as I started to not only read the lines that he wrote, but also to read between the lines, I sensed the very real possibility that this guy was looking for an actual solution. The phraseology was distinctly “Restrictionist” in both tone and nature, but I instinctively felt that based on what he wrote, there was possibly enough common ground to initiate a dialogue.

And so, I reached out. His article ended by stating, “If you have a “common sense” reason for allowing anyone in that wants to come, I’d like too hear it. If not, get on the immigration reform train, shed that amnesty baggage and lets fix our country, and it’s immigration system, together.” I went ahead and took the challenge, or the plunge. I wrote a reply, offering a slightly different perspective. Realizing that I was addressing a predominantly “anti-CIR” audience, I tried to show them that we were perhaps not as far apart on this issue as some of them may have suspected.

True to his word, my new buddy Carl published my response on his website, which he titled, “Comprehensive Immigration Reform: What some on the left are thinking.” I offer his/our article to you here, for your edification. Take from it what you will. Mr. Braun posted the following article:

The subject of Immigration Reform and Illegal Immigration can be truly incendiary in a public forum like this. I read every one of your comments and value each of them. I generally don't respond because my job is to put the topic out there to stir up public debate. You know what I think so now it is your turn.

In my last article "Since When does immigration reform mean open borders and amnesty?" I called for anyone with a better idea. Some answered with profanities and insults. Robert Gittelson however penned a thoughtful response and after a brief exchange with him I decided to post his letter, with his permission, so that each of us can see another perspective. It doesn't change my mind though I am encouraged to know that not everyone on the left is supportive of a full scale invasion through amnesty and open borders.

Still, this is a negotiation and positions are mapped out at the extremes. The upcoming debate (if we actually get to participate in one) will be lively and may alter the political and cultural landscape of the United States forever.  Whichever side you are on, at the end of the day, we are all Americans exercising our First Amendment Rights. We all believe our position is correct and the other guy is wrong. That is how this works. After all, if it wasn't for Democrats and Liberals, what on earth would Republicans and Conservatives talk about? And vice versa. Here's Robert's response:

After reading your article, “Since When Does Immigration Reform Mean Open Borders and Amnesty?” I felt a sense of optimism. Even though we are theoretically in opposite camps on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) debate, believe it or not, we are almost entirely in agreement as to what constitutes an effective CIR. As a longtime advocate for CIR, (I have written many articles in favor of CIR, I am a frequent speaker at CIR symposiums and rallies, and I write a weekly blog for the Standing Firm website advocating CIR), I think that most people would “assume” that we would be, as your article states, diametrically opposed to each other’s point of view. Well, in some ways we are, but in the ways that are going to count when CIR is brought up in Congress, we really are not.

The semantics surrounding this debate divide us, where the goals that we wish to accomplish tend to unite us. The left is guilty of using words like “xenophobe” and “racist,” while the right is guilty of employing words like “open-borders” and “amnesty.” It is my experience that these words are more descriptive of the ideologues at either end of the political spectrum. Most people in both camps are good Americans, and are reasonable people that want to find solutions that secure our borders, and reach a fair resolution to a problem that is universally recognized.

In point of fact, I, like almost everyone that is a serious proponent of CIR, do not in any way condone anything like open borders. I do know of two professors on the far left that tend to advocate policies that some might say are open-border-ish, but almost everyone else that advocates for CIR realizes that enforcement is the centerpiece of any realistic and effective CIR. The term “open border crowd” is a pejorative term meant to distort our position, and paint us with a negative connotation.

Similarly, Amnesty is a word that, again, distorts our position. Yes, we would advocate that some or most of the undocumented residents have a chance at legalizing their status, but our position is really almost identical to yours. Let me elaborate. Most of us believe that a commission of some sort should regulate the amount of immigrants allowed to come here on an annual, (or quarterly), basis. Sorry, but zero is not a realistic number, as we will always allow for refugees, asylees, business investors, and perhaps some extremely qualified and talented individuals in sports, arts, and yes, highly skilled business applications. Also, the unavailability of low-skilled agricultural laborers has decimated our agribusinesses, our largest export category. That being said, if we continue to experience high unemployment, the number of new legal immigrants will be as close to zero as possible. You might want to bring this up with your CIR advocates on the right, because they will be the ones pushing for higher numbers.

As to what you describe as amnesty, what you are proposing in your article, while perhaps worded more harshly than we might word it, is exactly what the new CIR will prescribe. Only through CIR will we be able to weed ourselves of the criminal non-citizens. The rest will, in fact, have to prove their worth, as you describe. Show that they have paid their taxes, or at least file them and work out a payment plan with the IRS, (note: most of them do pay their taxes). They will have to show an employment history. They will have to pay a fine to get right with the law, (something even you didn’t mention). They will have to learn to read, write, and speak English. They will have to stay right with the law in every way for upwards of a decade to earn their citizenship.

Basically, if you and I can agree on a set of principals and a fundamental understanding of just how to make CIR work, then perhaps others can be influenced by us to see the logic of a sensible CIR, instead of nothing and anarchy, which is what we have now. Even though we each approach this from what might be considered a different point of view, there exists enough common ground between our positions to forge an effective compromise. Therefore, if members of Congress can wrap their heads around the concept of uniting enough to solve a problem, as opposed to posturing for their re-election campaigns, then perhaps there is reason to be optimistic after all.