I have been thinking about issues relating to immigration, the politics of borders and walls, the importance of international relationships and friendships, and the responsibility we all have to tangibly promote the causes of understanding and cooperation in our own contexts and spheres of influence. Several events have influenced my thinking lately and precipitated new thoughts about these topics, including:
- An hour long audio conference call (via phone) with Rep. Mary Fallin (our elected representative in the US House of Representatives) and over 600 of her other Oklahoma constituents last week
- Discussions I’ve had with various people relating to immigration, our flat world, and policies we (the United States) have or some support relating to immigration
- An excellent article in the May 2007 issue of National Geographic magazine titled, “America’s Border Wall”
- Some excerpts I’ve read from Lee Iacocca’s new book, ““Where Have All the Leaders Gone?”
- An excellent presentation at the MO-Ranch Men’s conference by Rev. John Fife titled “The Bible on the Border” on May 5, 2007
I’ll begin this reflection by first sharing two of the best quotations from the May 2007 National Geographic article “America’s Border Wall.” First, this sentence about the nature of walls and the challenge which walls pose to the national identity of U.S. citizens:
A BORDER WALL SEEMS TO VIOLATE a deep sense of identity most Americans cherish. We see ourselves as a nation of immigrants with our own goddess, the Statue of Liberty, a symbol so potent that dissident Chinese students fabricated a version of it in 1989 in Tiananmen Square as the visual representation of their yearning for freedom.
As the article goes on to point out, some walls are built to keep people out, while others are built to keep people in. I agree with the author who observed that the walls which now separate the United States and Mexico are enforcement solutions to problems which are fundamentally economic. Like many challenging issues and situations, the dynamics of the southern U.S. border are highly complex and not easily simplified, especially for people who are saavy to the real issues. This, perhaps, is the strongest statement in the entire article, and one with which I personally resonate deeply:
There is a law on the border: the closer you get to the line, the more rational you become, because everyone has ties to people on the other side.
I am discouraged and concerned by many of the statements made by my fellow citizens here in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the United States concerning issues surrounding our southern border and illegal immigration, because I sense the simplified, “black and white” view of things they currently hold to reflects a LACK of rationality due in large part to a LACK of personal relationships, experiences, and connections they have to people who live near our southern border or further within the nation of Mexico itself.
I’m distressed by ethnocentrism, racism, and attitudes which support the unjustified, discriminatory treatment of other individuals based on their race, creed, skin color, or other characteristics due to birth and current location. “Distressed” is perhaps too tactful and light a word in fact: I am also incensed and motivated to both passionate words and actions because of these evils. Hatred (of anything but sin) is an evil, in my view, and the sentiments of racism and ethnocentrism which are stirred by many current discussions about immigration and immigration policy communicate at a minimum the seeds of hate, and at worst outright manifestations of hatred for other human beings which I categorically oppose.
I want to keep the tone of this reflection reasoned, however, because I think while emotion is important, it can in many cases obscure the real issues and the real solutions which are available to us in a complex and highly-charged discussion like one over legal and illegal immigration.
I understand that many people are fearful. Good Lord, you have to be blind to not realize that FEAR seems to be the predominant emotion which politicians seek to invoke these days in attempting to connect with and move their constituents to action, which is usually limited to “support me for office.” We live in a society seemingly riven with fear: Fear of terrorism, fear of illegal immigration which is touted to threaten our economic well being, fear of outsourcing which similarly threatens our economy and way of life, etc. Fear, fear, fear. I recognize the threats posed by violent terrorists and economic sea changes are both real and important to deal with, but I reject the premise that fear itself should form the basis of our response to these challenges.
Instead of waxing on further about politics and economics, let me cut to the chase for what I see as a critical imperative for educators everywhere: WE MUST STRIVE EVERY DAY TO HELP CONNECT OUR STUDENTS TO INTERNATIONAL PEERS, SO THEY CAN FORM RELATIONSHIPS OF FRIENDSHIP WHICH WILL MORE CONCRETELY CHANGE THEIR PERCEPTIONS OF INTERNATIONAL BOUNDARIES AND INTERNATIONAL ISSUES MORE POWERFULLY THAN ANY LESSON FOCUSED PRIMARILY ON COGNITIVE FACTS ABOUT OTHER COUNTRIES. At our children’s school this past Friday, it was “multicultural day.” The goal of helping students develop better senses of the wonderfully diverse and culturally rich world which we inhabit together is an outstanding one, but that goal cannot be authentically advanced very far by simply declaring and holding a “multicultural day.” Similarly, school districts cannot advance this goal by simply hiring a person to be “Director of Diversity” or multiculturalism, which some districts have done.
The best way to promote the causes of international understanding, cultural awareness, and respectful, tolerant attitudes is to foster international friendships. Our capabilities to foster those friendships via electronic tools today is unprecedented. One of the main things I am looking forward to most in the 2007 K-12 Online Conference is the opportunity to learn more, and in-depth, about how progressive educators are using digital tools to make international collaboration a daily reality rather than an imagined pipe dream for students, as it sadly is in many contexts.
We need to humanize discussions we are having about immigration and our southern border in the United States. I perceive that rather than build more walls, and invest more millions of dollars in border patrol and technological attempts to curb immigration, we would spend our money more wisely by simply enforcing the employment laws which we already have on the books. It is illegal for someone to employ an undocumented worker in the United States. People who hire undocumented workers are breaking the law. Yet instead of cracking down on this reality, which is precisely the economic center of gravity in the entire debate over immigration policy in the United States, our leaders seem content to turn a blind eye to this reality and instead advocate for bigger walls, more people with guns and dogs on the border, and more money for militarizing our southern border.
Has there ever been a better day to be a defense contractor or a law enforcement contractor for the United States? When do our current leaders project “the war on terror” will ever end? The “war on illegal immigration?” It is a mistake to call these legal enforcement efforts “wars,” because they will NEVER end. Wars are fought to convert the will of an enemy with violent means. Fighting terrorism and other criminal behaviors, opposing the flow of illegal drugs into our country and the use of illegal drugs by people within our country, and addressing the challenges of border control and enforcement are issues which will remain with us ad infinitum.
So why do we hear such a chorus of voices clamoring for greater militarization of the U.S. Mexican border, instead of dealing with the economic challenges present there and throughout our nation due to the realities of freer commerce? One reason, unfortunately, it that it’s easier for a politician to demonize people as “enemies” and suggest a military / law enforcement solution, rather than deal constructively with the complex issues which have only viable long term, rather than short term solutions. I wrote about this at length in the context of drug control in 1992-1993, when I lived and studied in Mexico City. During the course of my research, I encountered the metaphor used during the Nixon administration for drug control. It was not “a war on drugs,” instead it was “weeding the garden.” Weeds are going to continue to grow in a garden, just as illegal drugs will continue to be grown or made, transported, sold and used as long as there is an economic demand for them.
People, however, are not weeds. Every person is a human being, and as a human has inalienable human rights which they possess irrespective of their current geographic context. In discussions about U.S./Mexico immigration issues, we need to listen more to those people living on the border and connected in their personal relationships to those on the other side of the border. Those voices are likely to continue to be the most rational in these discussions. We can’t take all our students to the U.S. and Mexican border for an object lesson, but we certainly can connect them to other learners on either side of the border who by the fact of their current geographic location have important perspectives to consider when it comes to these issues, which may be quite different from our own perspectives and those of our students’ parents.
Lee Iacocca shares some “on target” thoughts related to these issues in his latest book. On page 112 he writes:
Some people are nervous about globalization. And some people are just in denial. But it’s impossible to escape it, the way the world seeps in. You can’t fence the world out, and you can’t fence yourself in. Technology knows no borders. As one of the first computer geeks stated, “Information wants to be free.” To fear globalization is to fear change, but like it or not, change is a constant in our lives.
Global collaboration in our classrooms. We need more of it, not only to prepare our students for the economically flat world in which they live and will live in the future, but also to humanize the ongoing discussions we’re having and will have about immigration, borders, and many other topics we’ll face together in the years ahead.
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