Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

American Immigration Beyond the Popular Vote

By Hannah CashenPublished October 24, 2014

Immigration continues to be a hot-button topic in American politics and campaigns. But immigrants themselves are soon lost in the shuffle when policies turn into platforms shaped to glean support and popularity.
By Hannah Cashen, 10/24/14

As America's liberals and conservatives tackle "immigration reform" and "border control" respectively, it is easy to forget that the battle for the right to migrate reaches far beyond the wars of words spoken in debates aired on USA televisions and directed towards us, a population seated comfortably on the couch. Immigration laws and control are terrifyingly real in the lives of citizens seeking respite in America but are increasingly being decided by platforms that must appear hard-hitting to receive support.  The situation of those trying to cross the border is too easily reduced to campaign tactics and party pressures. 

According to a recent Brookings poll, Americans trust Republicans more than Democrats to deal with border issues, a revelation that hardly bodes well for the thousands attempting to enter the U.S. each year. But the timely nature of the data behind this poll cannot be denied; photographs recently surfaced of detained immigrants in Texas, and America's ever-reactionary outlook are most certainly factors in the exacerbation of a Republican lead. 

The President is hardly remedying the situation. Rather, he clearly is feeling the Republican party pressure; to maintain his reputation of a strong bipartisan tendency and consistent willingness to reach across party lines, he has taken a step back from his initial goals of prioritizing amnesty (including his generous vow to limit deportation to criminals and "repeat immigration violators") when dealing with border control. Rather, the White House website claims that "America's immigration system is broken" and appeals to a no-nonsense, hometown style of leadership with its "common sense" proposal and assertion that President Obama is presenting "a plan that requires anyone who's undocumented to get right with the law." He outlines his intents to define citizenship as something earned, not a right, to stop undocumented worker exploitation, and to focus on a stronger and more secure border. This echoes his undeniable scramble for popularity in steadily decreasing approval ratings. 

Obama is not at fault for the flaws of the American legal system. Rather, his struggle with immigration laws and control echoes the nation's confusion; it continues to be a hot-button topic due to its inconsistencies and heartfelt claims on both sides. But the image of America as a haven, a melting pot, and the home of the free is eerily juxtaposed with the innate elitism of the country and the inclination to protect its own. Most can relate to both sides; anyone can claim the need of jobs in a stale employment climate, but in the same way feel pity for a child who successfully crossed to Texas but whose mother is detained at the Mexican border. A solution can only be found in a true bipartisan approach that allows the closest semblance of a happy medium to be reached without sacrificing integrity for the sake of approval or social acceptableness.