Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Immigration: The flaws in the “Let's say I break into your house” analogy...

The flaws in the “Let's say I break into your house” analogy are numerous.

A lady wrote the best letter in the Editorials in ages!!! It explains things better than all the baloney you hear on TV. Her point: Recently large demonstrations have taken place across the country protesting the fact that Congress is finally addressing the issue of illegal immigration. Certain people are angry that the US might protect its own borders, might make it harder to sneak into this country and, once here, to stay indefinitely.

Let me see if I correctly understand the thinking behind these protests. Let's say I break into your house. Let's say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave. But I say, ‘I've made all the beds and washed the dishes and did the laundry and swept the floors. I've done all the things you don't like to do. I'm hard-working and honest (except for when I broke into your house).

According to the protesters:
You are Required to let me stay in your house
You are Required to add me to your family's insurance plan
You are Required to Educate my kids
You are Required to Provide other benefits to me & to my family (my husband will do all of your yard work because he is also hard-working and honest, except for that breaking in part).

If you try to call the police or force me out, I will call my friends who will picket your house carrying signs that proclaim my RIGHT to be there.

It's only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I'm just trying to better myself. I'm a hard-working and honest, person, except for well, you know, I did break into your house.

And what a deal it is for me!!! I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of cold, uncaring, selfish, prejudiced, and bigoted behavior.

Oh yeah, I DEMAND that you to learn MY LANGUAGE!!! so you can communicate with me.

Why can't people see how ridiculous this is?! Only in America . If you agree, pass it on (in English ). Share it if you see the value of it. If not blow it off.........along with your future Social Security funds, and a lot of other things.
In the box to the right is a copy of an email I received recently. It's making the rounds, posted on lots of blogs. And here are the problems with it...

First and foremost, this analogy uses the very simple “straw man” rhetorical device. The idea is to put words into your opponent’s mouth (words they didn’t actually say) and then beat them up for it. I don’t think there are many Americans who are “angry that the US might protect its own borders.” (And it’s not as if we aren’t making some effort at such protection already.) I also don’t think that “demonstrations have taken place across the country protesting the fact that Congress is finally addressing the issue of illegal immigration.” Almost everyone wants Congress to address the issue, they just can’t agree on what a good way to address it would be.

The second flaw is that the woman's effort to make her private residence comparable or analogous to her country should be seen by intelligent readers as a failure. The woman who wrote this doesn’t own America in the same way that she owns her house. There are other stakeholders in America and we have Congress and the President making laws for us for precisely that reason. Sometimes, after Congress and the President have done their job, the courts step in because the will of the majority is not always what matters in America. And in America, people have rights long before they become citizens because they are, after all, people.

The comparison of America to this woman’s private residence is almost humorous. By her logic, most of us should get out and give the place back to the Cherokee and the Iroquois – no matter how trite and worn out that line of argument seems. The concept of the nation-state is a relatively new one in human history and not everyone on earth is even aware of it; immigration, on the other hand, has been around since before Abraham. America has always had immigration. Managing it has always been a challenge. It was hard to keep Ireland from drowning the cities of America in illiterate, dirty, mostly Catholic Micks - like the Kennedy’s, the Reagan’s, and Henry Ford’s people. But we’ve always incorporated new waves of immigration into our society and become a greater society as a result.

That leads into the next flaw I’d like to point out in this woman’s argument. She repeatedly characterizes undocumented immigrants in general as dishonest because they “broke in” to “her” country. Okay yes, there are laws designed to regulate immigration. I understand that ignorance of the law is no excuse. What we mean by that is that even if you are truly ignorant of a law, that doesn’t keep you from suffering some penalty if you disobey it. This woman is arguing that undocumented immigrants are all always aware of America’s immigration laws when they enter this country; many of them, of course, are not. She’s also arguing that immigrants from other countries understand the concept of the rule of law, when in fact they often come from rural, undeveloped areas where might makes right and the powerful people of a town or region do as they please. Many of the people who cross our southern border, I suspect, view efforts to keep them from living and working here in the same light that they viewed efforts to control their lives back in El Salvador or Mexico. Crossing our border to better their own lot in life makes the self-interested (like the author), but not necessarily dishonest. Comparing that act to breaking and entering is a rhetorical tool designed to simplify the issues involved and (given the sweeping generalizations) engender bigotry.

meFinally, the author’s goal seems to be to make you see this issue in an artificially moral light. She says, basically, “I don’t like this, so it must be wrong.” That seems fair, doesn’t it? If it wasn’t “wrong” (immoral, sinful, wicked), she wouldn’t be so against it. The truth is that immigration has lots of gray areas. And she uses the “it’s just wrong” approach because it’s easy. If she wanted to put forward a real argument on immigration, she’d have to have brains and she’s have to use them.

While we can bicker about the size of our moral obligations to the rest of the world, few people in America are willing to stand up and say that we just have no moral obligation to the rest of the world.

I don’t really know what the solution to the immigration question is. This woman’s approach (“They’re all bad people and we should send them back – even the 12-year-olds who only speak English and have been here since they were two years old.”) is not one I see as productive.

Many undocumented immigrants have been here for years (or even decades), have provided meaningful services to their communities, and have paid in to Social Security, etc. Their presence has been tolerated by government policy; now on a whim we want to uproot them and send the “home” to a place they haven’t seen in a couple of decades – and when we send them off we want to keep what they paid into Social Security for ourselves.

That last part in particular I suspect God will frown on.

If you agree with me, leave a comment (I don't care what language it's in) and send a link to this blog to your friends. If you don't agree with me - hey, I'm used to that...


Sherry said...

Another problem with her analogy is that 300 million people live in "her house" already, and a large part of them don't mind that anybody has broken in and done their chores.

Greg_Cruey said...

Hi Sherry, Thanks for the comment. I'm curious... North Island or South Island? -Greg

Sherry said...

South Island, for my husband to attend the University of Otago. He doesn't blog, or else he actually would have been the one to post that comment. I'm just not that clever.