Immigration remains a high-button issue in the U.S. When journalist Jose Antonio Vargas revealed that he was an illegal immigrant living in America, there was an overwhelming flurry of responses, both in support of and against his remaining here. Vargas says that after reading “about four students who walked from Miami to Washington [D.C.] to lobby for the Dream Act,” he recognized his own story. The legislation proposed in the Dream Act would grant amnesty to people younger than 36. Immigrants who arrived in the States as children, who have lived in the States for at least five years, or who attend college or serve in the military would be granted permanent residency. The complexities of this legislation are numerous.
When the Dream Act failed, Vargas knew he had to confess. His family and friends urged him to remain silent. Revealing his status was clearly a risk.
In an episode of Intelligence Squared, a radio broadcast, a debate among experts focused on a motion that the U.S. should not welcome undocumented immigrants. Pre-debate polls showed that 42% were for the motion and 34% were against, with 24% undecided. At the end of the debate, 60% were for the motion, 37% were against, and only 3% were undecided, proving that those who are ‘undecided’ may prove a powerful force in this debate.
Immigration debates are complicated by the polarizing opinions expressed by experts, who often misrepresent facts to score a point. More appalling is that these misrepresentations go unchallenged. Sensational language, designed to provoke emotional responses, runs rampant on both sides. Additionally, there is the disturbing lack of information on actual immigration reform. No one wants to take responsibility for immigration’s sad state.
What does this tell us? Debates can be a powerful tool for seeing more than one side of an issue, but it also depends on how the issue is framed. We have to ask the right questions. Immigration is not a simple matter of welcoming people into a country, and it has layers beyond mere pundits and opinions. Voices of the undocumented immigrants need to be heard too. Vargas’ case may help us decide. One can only hope.