This semester, the MCAPP Immigration Policy group delved into the issues facing policymakers in grappling with one of the hottest political topics of the last decade: immigration. Examining flash-points from Juárez to Tobruk, we sought to provide a holistic examination of various facets of immigration policy while engaging with the tough questions that continue to bedevil policy makers here and abroad. As the twenty-first century progresses, especially with the looming threat of further climate- and conflict-related migration, immigration-and how to craft policy in response to it-will remain a hot topic across the world.
There are as many possible topics for an immigration policy researcher to explore as there are borders; in order to furnish a worthy contribution to the overall MCAPP project we decided to explore four specific and often-interconnected areas of study. Researcher Emily Portalatin Munoz covered asylum claims with a focus on the United States’ southern border, a fecund source of news coverage and debate over the last four years. Communications specialist Elliot Matthews engaged in a broad, birds-eye analysis of the policies instituted by outgoing president Donald Trump’s administration. Addressing a particularly misunderstood and much-discussed recent phenomenon, analyst Sean Rush delivered a treatise on so-called sanctuary cities and their broader effects on policy at a national level. Meanwhile, theorist John Weiller took readers across the pond to explore the 2014-2019 European migration crisis, and the lessons public servants on both sides of the Atlantic can draw from therein. Although well aware that the cherished reader imbibing this new post is of course already familiar with the rest of our work, presented below are some highlights from what has been a rewarding, intensive labor of love.
From Ms. Portalatin Munoz’s coverage of asylum claims, perhaps the key takeaway for the reader in 2020-policymaker and average Joe alike-is the import of the 2019 Refugee Protection Act. The first major piece of legislation on the asylum-seeking process in over a decade, the Act would be a key step in addressing many of the issues faced by people arriving in a country said to be animated by the ‘American Dream’. The author’s coverage is less stinting than that of most media outlets-a fact not lost on Ms. Munoz-and her work in covering the Act provides a much needed spotlight on legislation that is too important to easily let die. With the country gripped by a contentious transfer of power at its uppermost echelons, it is more important than ever to continue directing attention towards such comprehensive pieces of legislation.
For Mr. Matthews, a major focus was immigration trends following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the subsequent heightening of the tensions surrounding the immigration conversation in the USA. By looking at the effects of new policy on discrete groups of immigrants-with an emphasis on comparing East Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern experiences in migrating to the USA-the author affords the reader an opportunity to plumb the usefulness (or lack thereof) of contemporary immigration legislation. As we ultimately see in his work, recent immigration policy has created a hostile environment without any path to citizenship for millions who have lived and paid taxes in the USA for years, while also failing to suppress immigration levels.
Mr. Rush was also interested in exploring policymaker’s failures to create a path to citizenship, but in his case this led to a more specific exploration of the partisan differences in approaching ‘sanctuary cities’, cities whose law enforcement officers have been instructed not to actively cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. This, more than any other section of our blog, allows for an exploration of the partisan energies animating the immigration policy discussion. As Mr. Rush shows us, the legislation and rhetoric surrounding this issue are hotly contested and differ by state; Republican Texas and Democratic California, for example, provide wildly different examples of state-level attitudes towards illegal immigration.
Mr. Weiller’s work was perhaps more geographically remote than the other three of our researchers’, but the European migration crisis bears some important lessons for any policymaker tackling immigration-related issues. As he explores in his posts, the underlying cause of the crisis was chronic instability in neighboring nations-an issue familiar to American policymakers contemplating Central America. By examining the vacuum created by the absence of a legitimate Libyan government, Mr. Weiller also furnishes an example of the chaos that can be caused by attempting to take a short-cut around a problem relating to immigration, and the issues caused by long-term chaos next door. Although the crisis proper is undoubtedly over, it remains to be seen whether European politicians are adequately prepared for the next tidal wave of refugees & migrants.
While the number of class sessions remaining and the number of dollars in researchers’ coffee budgets are unfortunately too low to allow for the expansion of the MCAPP immigration report, our researchers hope that in outlining what an expansion into a full report could cover, we might impart some further wisdom beyond that which already drips from our individual reports. Although we worked chiefly on individual situations and/or problems, all of our areas of focus complement and influence one another. A broader report drawing from our current work would allow this team to delve in to (for example) the ways in which sanctuary cities created at the state level might affect a national administration’s policies, the extent to which American policy towards asylum claims was influenced by the experiences of European states in dealing with massive increases in migration, or a variety of other direct intersections of our respective areas of expertise.
Beyond the potential for examining the interplay of our chosen subjects, given the time we would like to be able to address broader questions of policy, public perception, and immigration. The dynamics of immigration-related issues are unusual relative to other policy fields, as is the degree to which the conversation is influenced or amplified by differing perceptions of identity. Immigrants can be the topic of heated conversation at one point; decades later their descendants play the role of interlocutor. There are myriad reasons that immigration-related topics are both fertile ground and a potential minefield for a would-be public servant or policymaker. Ultimately, the public servant and policymaker will both discover what we learned this semester: immigration and migration happen down the street, at the border, and a million other places besides. The only way to begin to understand immigration, let alone the art of crafting immigration policy, is to dive across the world and into the facts.