Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
People near the University of Utah campus to show support for undocumented immigrants and call for immigration reform in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 17, 2018.

Another week of political left vs. political right rhetoric on immigration. The spark for this latest round of flame-throwing was President Donald Trump calling for National Guard troops to help protect the southern border. While the act itself will do little to change the dynamic at the border, (similar orders were carried out by President Barack Obama in 2010 and President George W. Bush in 2006), the hyperbole it has ignited has fanned the rage of operatives and organizations across the political spectrum. The nation is exhausted by this perpetual battle that yields no national security improvements, no certainty for “dreamers,” no support for law enforcement and no way out for those trapped in the system — but which delivers plenty of dollars for those who profit from division.

It really doesn’t have to be this way. The rule of law and compassion are completely compatible when it comes to immigration. Utahns have shown a desire, and ability, to tackle immigration in a way that is both commonsense and compassionate. Dealing with known criminals is different than addressing the needs of children of illegal immigrants, and no one should confuse or conflate the two.

Trump has struggled to lead within the cross-section of campaign rhetoric and governing reality. He has attempted to get to a solution through sometimes flailing efforts that have caused those on the political right to flinch and those on the political left to wince. He has, however, proposed a solution for DACA far beyond what Democrats in Congress have put forward and further than many Republicans wanted to go. Sounds like the perfect setting for real reform — if it weren’t for politics.

The biggest challenge for the Trump administration has been dealing with members of Congress in both political parties, along with the outside groups that raise enormous amounts of money and run political campaigns using immigration as a wedge issue. Wrangling all of these interests would make the president king of the swamp.

The vast majority of America’s immigration challenges could be solved in an afternoon on the floor of the U.S. House and Senate — because everyone agrees on most of the critical steps. Almost everyone believes America must have border security. A country that doesn’t have authority over its borders is not a country.

There is consensus on the need for a more sophisticated entry and exit system to track who comes in and who leaves the country. If Disneyland can tell you where your family is anywhere in the park, if your smartphone can tell you how far out your Uber driver is and if your family app can tell you when your child arrives at piano lessons — surely the American government is capable of tracking who comes in and out of the country.

Making legal immigration simple, fair and faster while maintaining rigorous scrutiny also has broad support. Modernizing the entire system including visas, green cards and other work programs is achievable.

Partisans will breathlessly shout, “But you haven’t addressed the 12 million people who are here illegally!” This is where I trust the American people more than the politicians. If all the other steps are completed, the number of people here illegally would be a much smaller number, maybe even below 6 million. Out of that total, a percentage of them will have criminal convictions — I trust the American people to know what to do with bad actors.

The remaining number will be very sympathetic cases — I trust the American people, who are among the most compassionate people in the world, to know what to do in such circumstances.

15 comments on this story

This is a slightly simplistic approach to the immigration issue. But only slightly. The question is, who will lead? Who is willing to call on both sides of the aisle to live up to the principles they profess to believe? Who is willing to say "no" to the fake fights and false choices being served up by so-called leaders in Congress? Who is willing to say "no more 2,000-page bills no one has read"? Who is willing to challenge the motives and fundraising methods of special-interest groups? Who will put forward a step-by-step series of legislation?

The most important thing for the nation relating to immigration policy is for there to be real dialogue on the issue rather than more of the same old divisive rhetoric. Immigration policy can be accomplished in a way that is fair under the rule of law and compassionate. For the good of the nation and the future of the country, it is time to actually address immigration.