So I'm lying awake at night, unable to sleep because i can't stop thinking about the thousands of kids that our government has ripped from their parents and locked in cages near the border. And i'm trying to figure out some kind of response: calling and donating? Yes i'll keep doing those but they seem so woefully inadequate; yelling on the internet and waving signs near city hall: cathartic but do they accomplish anything? Quitting my job, learning Spanish, moving to Texas and becoming a full-time advocate for the rights of asylum-seekers: part of me says "Yes that is the only moral course of action when faced with such enormous evil" but another part of me says "What about your current job. And your own family."

Meanwhile, there's this very frustrating argument i see over and over again. It goes like this:

A: "ripping kids from their families and locking them in cages is not OK"
B: "You're a hypocrite because you didn't complain when Obama did it"


A: "ripping kids from their families and locking them in cages is not OK"
B: "if those people didn't want their kids separated from them they shouldn't have crossed the border"

There are several glib answers I could give, e.g:

"Obama prioritized deporting violent criminals, didn't have a zero-tolerance policy, and didn't split up families"

"Crossing the border seeking asylum is not a crime, and besides civilized countries don't punish children for crimes of their parents"
"How the hell can you see the government ripping kids from their families and locking them in cages and think Hmmm yes everything seems to be fine here"

-- but I don't find these answers entirely satisfying. I want to dig deeper.

I mean, maybe I should have been protesting Obama's immigration enforcement policy! I'm sure our immigration policy has been bad for a long time; I just didn't pay it the attention it deserved before Trump turned it into a crisis. What do I think we should be doing with refugees who show up on the border? Who do I think we should give asylum to? I want to be able to present "Here's what we should be doing instead" instead of just saying "Anything but this".

Because, there's a lot of people (I talked to some last weekend) who are like:

"I don't want to see kids locked in cages either, but the parents should have known not to cross the border with their kids. we have to enforce the law."

I think "we have to enforce the law" is more or less unassailable bedrock for a lot of people. "hashtag famlies belong together" isn't going to get past that. And OK maybe for some people "law" is just a fig-leaf covering hard-core xenophobia. But others -- others who aren't lying when they say "I don't like it either" -- they might be persudable. If we articulate a third way other than "total lawlessness" or "lock kids in cages".

I reject the false dichotomy that if i'm against trumpian zero-tolerance immigration policy then I must be for "open borders". (Shades of the George W. era "if you don't support torturing prisoners of war you must want the terrorists to win!") I believe in due process of law, which means giving people trials, and assuming innocent until proven guilty, because sometimes the government arrests the wrong person. Further, I believe there are better and worse laws. "We have to enforce the law" but if our laws are bad, we should change them. Question is, what do I want to change them to?

Basically, I don't know enough about immigration law/policy/enforcement to be able to defend a really solid position of "what should we be doing instead". And I'd like to change that. Which means educating myself, becoming fluent in the historical facts and the policy trade-offs.

There's also this: I'm so sick of just constantly reacting to the latest outrage. I'm sick of always being buffeted this way and that way by the chaotic, ever-changing storm of bullshit. You don't even get a chance to fully digest one Trump scandal before he commits five more, contradicts his own position three times, fires somebody he was praising last week, and tweets out a cheer for crimes against humanity. It's exhausting. It makes it very hard to keep a sustained focus on one problem for very long. Which i'm sure is how Trump likes it; he's much like a toddler who always wants to be the center of attention and doesn't care if it's good or bad attention.

I want to stop panicking and strategize. I want to stop reacting to the news, pick one problem and stick to it long enough to dig through all the lies and formulate some kind of coherent response. I want to focus on doing one thing that I'm able to do well. I want to write about a subject I choose to write about, instead of always the latest thing that the internet wants me to react to. I want to be able to stand for something and not just against something.

Especially not just knee-jerk against something. ("If Trump hates illegal immigration then I LOVE IT!" Wait. Stop and think a second. Don't get so mad that you're baited into saying something you don't mean.) Independent of Trump and independent of the news cycle, what am I actually in favor of?

To be honest, I'm not good at politics. I feel strongly about wanting to help, but I'm no culture warrior. I'm an introvert. I don't like bumper-sticker slogans. I like my charts with the error bars clearly labeled, if you know what I mean. I like scientific papers that admit their own methodological weaknesses. I nitpick the logic of political cartoons that I agree with. I discovered while knocking on doors in 2008 that I'm actually very uncomfortable telling people who to vote for.

But what I am good at is I can deep-dive into facts, and I can synthesize information, and I can write. Policy-wonk stuff. So maybe the best way I can help the hashtag Resistance is that I do a bunch of research and writing and package up a bunch of facts and policy proposals to hand off to the people doing the front-line hashtag Resisting.

So to kick off this blogging project, I made myself a list of questions. Factual and historical questions about immigration; stuff I don't know, and wish I did. I want to dig into these questions in future posts:

  • Why *is* the situation so bad in Central America that so many people are so desperate to flee it that they'd rather take their chances being locked up by US border patrol?
  • Exactly what laws are refugees/asylum-seekers being accused of breaking? Who has the burden of proof? Is it like a civil trial or a criminal trial? And what chance do individual families get to defend themselves from this accusation?
  • What's the difference between refugees and asylum seekers (if any), between them and economic migrants, and what's the difference between (if any) between lawful and unlawful places and times of seeking asylum?
  • How hard is it to get asylum granted? What does a seeker need to prove? How many people succeed vs. fail? Has this gotten harder lately?
  • What departments of the federal government are doing this and who controls them?
  • Recent history: what did the Obama administration (and those before it) do in similar situations, exactly what has the trump administration changed?
  • Longer-term history: how does the current political situation compare to the political situation during previous waves of immigration / waves of xenophobia? Is there an unprecedented number of asylum-seekers suddenly or is this within normal variation?
  • What bills are held up in congress that could adress the crisis, which are good and which are bad, and which members of congress do we need to pressure (or replace!) to get the good ones passed?
  • Is there any truth to the idea that there are gang members hiding among the refugees? if so, how do we weed them out?
  • Why are refugees from Central America passing through Mexico to seek asylum in the US rather than seeking asylum in Mexico?
  • What are the best ways to directly help families stuck in the system right now?

I'm going into this without any preconcieved idea of what the answers to these questions should be. The only fixed notion I have is that of basic human decency, which tells me that when kids are getting ripped away from their parents and locked in cages, something (more likely four or five somethings) have gone terribly wrong. My moral intuition also tells me that human rights are not dependent on which side of an imaginary line on a map you were born on.

Other than that, I've got an open mind. I don't know what exact policy I support, yet. I'm gonna follow the facts wherever they take me. Yeah maybe this seems quaint in a time of life-or-death, with-us-or-against-us, nazi-punching conflict. But I have to believe that the facts still matter. Have to keep a grip on the underlying objective reality. Treating facts like they matter is the only way to avoid being swept away by the never-ending "2+2=5", "ignorance is strength", "we have always been at trade war with Canada" of the trump era.

Last modified June 29, 2018, 11:56 p.m..

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