For those of us who stand on the steps of Power to advocate for change, who pray for solutions, who push our peers to move towards mending the brokenness of our society, it is always important to make sure we are on the right path. We first consult our hearts, to be sure that our intentions are good and our compassion and love is abundant. And we consult with our head, to be sure that we are looking for answers in the right places, that we are being observant to the facts and information available.
This latter step is very important. Moved by the passion and empathy we have for protecting the most vulnerable, getting “carried away” is easy. That is why we are vigilant to make sure we are not misinformed, that we are firmly grounded in the factual reality of our country, never pulled into the dangers of partisan politics, and clear-sighted when it comes to tangible solutions.
Those who willfully distort our reality further complicate the already highly complex issues we are trying to resolve. In particular, immigration reform is an issue that within it contains a multitude of competing interests that must work hard to find compromise and cooperation. To do that we must lay a foundation of common agreements that opens space for negotiation and progress.
We fear what we don’t know; and immigrants, coming from an unknown land and an unknown culture, embody our fear of the unknown. We must counteract that fear with relationship: by building connections between newcomers and welcoming communities, to dispel the natural fear and replace it with the divine love that permeates communities of mutual understanding.
However, if that fear of the unknown is coupled to a real security threat, like border violence, terrorism, or drug related crime, the work of creating a relationship between newcomers and welcoming communities is much harder.
So it is deeply troubling when we read that, despite clear evidence that the effort to protect the southwest border has been highly successful, many insist there is an epidemic of violence along the border with Mexico. They insist that the evidence is wrong, ignoring fact and perpetuating a damaging fiction. They dig their heels into the ground and repeat to exhaustion the singular talking point: “Borders first.”
This is where dialogue has broken down. Many politicians have tried to placate those who demand “borders first.” President Obama has dedicated more border security personnel and resources than any other previous administration. But despite vast improvements that have left some border areas safer than the average American city, immigration reform opponents have chosen to continue to perpetuate a myth of a lawless border with rampant kidnapping and extortion.
What is now clear is that the disagreement between those ready to work and move forward on immigration and those who oppose anything but enforcement is actually much deeper than just ideology: they disagree about nature of factual truth. Those who ignore factual data rely on anecdote and rumor to support a platform of fear. How can we move the dialogue towards resolution when one side has closed their eyes to measurable data and is building a perception of reality that is verifiably false?
Now is the time to face the greater challenge of finding a compassionate solution for our communities so that millions no longer have to live in fear. But instead, many are playing upon volatile fears and creating dangerous misinformation. We know that the people of this country are compassionate and kind, that they are reasonable and intelligent. But when voices in positions of leadership, trusted by their communities, spread lies that ignore quantified fact, the result is a misinformed populous.
“The perception of rising violence is so engrained that 83% of Americans said they believe the rate of violence along the southwestern border is higher than national rates.” However, “U.S. border cities were statistically safer on average than other cities in their states. Those border cities, big and small, have maintained lower crime rates than the national average, which itself has been falling.”
So the next time someone throws around the talking point “borders first” help then take off the blindfold. Tell them about the reports, point to the evidence-based facts that prove we are ready for the next step. Let’s move the conversation to what happens second, and third, and fourth.