The Immigration Debate Has Turned Us into a Caricature Circus

“If we are to allow the huddled masses to breathe free, our ability to talk to fellow Americans must be just as free.”

Humans are no strangers to inventing their own terrible rules. Thinkers from Goldberg to Harari have pointed out humanity’s ability to create rules that guide our lived experience–everything from extremist religious observance to socio-political polarization‒in ways that can be abused because incorrect ideas become ingrained to the point where we see them as rules.

It’s fairly simple: if you’re raised to believe the earth is flat, only congregate in areas of society where the earth is presumed flat, and are silenced when you ask too many questions, these rules will eventually shape your world to be completely flat. We internalize these kinds of rules all the time in politics. Terms like “RINO” only exist because we’ve internalized rules that divide us from those in the political opposition.

A Sham Immigration Debate

An area in which these rules are plainly obvious is the way that the political left and right think about immigration. We’ve turned immigration from a debate over policies of national sovereignty into a circus of two caricaturish troupes: people who love closed borders and don’t care about kids in cages and people who want open borders and think that immigration restrictions are racist. This infantilizing of the debate is an outgrowth of the rules we’ve internalized. We must cut through the narrative and see the debate outside those rules if we’re ever to create consensus.

A Gallup poll shows that belief in decreasing immigration is lower than it’s been in several decades, and we should examine potential causes for this. It’s not like a certain so-called visionary president talked about controlled immigration, only for his vice president to club that sentiment like a baby seal. It’s not as if Trump campaigned hard on immigration only to build a grand total of 80 miles of new fencing, for which Mexico paid precisely zero percent. (To be fair, those of us who deal in political snark weren’t surprised, but the fact that it was a point in a campaign…)

Beyond the Politicians

Our politicians clearly are not the source of solidarity or comfort on this issue. But the data seem at first glance to indicate that the American people aren’t doing much better. A 2020 Pew poll found that 28% of Republicans believe that immigrants make American society worse, compared with 8% of Democrats. Conversely, a 2020 Gallup poll found that “the percentage of Americans who said they wanted to see an increase in immigration (34%) was greater than the percentage who wanted immigration to the U.S. cut (28%).” These data suggest that maybe our internalized rules aren’t inaccurate after all. Maybe there is some truth to the idea of the caricature circus.

Here’s the Truth…

However, once we look below the surface, that idea disappears faster than Portland’s willingness to publish Andy Ngo. It turns out that while American opinions on immigration may be plagued by deep divide, opinions on immigrants are far more charitable and bipartisanly positive. According to a 2020 Public Religion Research Institute poll, (last one, I promise. Maybe…) 89% of respondents had a favorable view of immigrants– regardless of party affiliation or any other differentiating factor.

The rules we’ve accepted as parameters for the immigration debate are neither sufficient nor accurate to articulate the way Americans seem to truly think about this issue. American opinion clearly is not limited to fringe groups of Thranduil isolationists and people who believe that border walls are racist. It seems as if many Americans actually are more open to immigrants’ assimilation and citizenship than partisan data seem to show.

The left’s portrayal of the right and vice versa don’t reflect the way Americans think when they take the step of thinking about immigration as affecting individuals and not merely nebulous groups at our borders. Our job is to stand tall, above the circus created by our own partisan rules. If we are to allow the huddled masses to breathe free, our ability to talk to fellow Americans must be just as free.


Isaac WillourIsaac Willour is a reporter for the College Fix and a contributor to Lone Conservative. He serves as an executive scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, a columnist for Grove City College’s college newspaper, The Collegian, and an associate editor for the GCC Journal of Law & Public Policy.