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Make America think again

| Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Consider the scenario: A 55 year-old farmer — father to three, grandfather of two and married for 20 years — endures a decade-long drought near Jalisco, Mexico.

His farm is subsidized, novel irrigation tactics are introduced, low-interest loans are given, but the inevitable occurs: His crop runs dry, his debt surpasses $20K and he decides to take the only skills he knows further north, where pay is good.

This is exactly somebody our group of Notre Dame students encountered while spending winter break at the United States/Mexico Border. After a semester studying immigration policy, we met with United States Border Patrol officers, local ranchers and humanitarian aid groups to immerse ourselves in the complexities surrounding the border.

The Arizona-Sonora border, extending over 350 miles, traverses peaks and trenches. It is a home to spectacular panoramas, unique wildlife and a culture that fuses nations. By the turn of the 21st century, the deaths of more than 11,000 undocumented migrants was well under way in our own Sonoran Desert. Today, a wall threatens to divide a land that conjoins two great nations.

Operation Hold the Line and Operation Gatekeeper, both Clinton-era measures, closed the California and Texas borders, funneling migrants to the most dangerous and remote parts of the Sonoran Desert. Deaths caused by dehydration and exposure soared after these laws were enacted, provoking local churches to band together and deliver aid to those who were dying in their own backyard.

For the last 20 years, humanitarian groups such as “No More Deaths” and “Samaritans” have trekked to remote sections of the Arizonan desert to drop off water, food and medical supplies along migrant trails. These groups have been charged for anything from littering to conspiring to transport illegal aliens over 30 times. Never have they been convicted. Never is humanitarian aid a crime. Regularly, border patrol slashes water supplies. Regularly, militia groups destroy food caches. Every week of the year, local residents and authorities find human remains along these trails in southern Arizona.

The decision to cross illegally is particularly disagreeable, but no one deserves to die. Migrants are often deceived or ignorant of the geography of the southwest. The lights in the distance — a three-days walk through barren dessert — are mistaken to be Chicago. Those lights are Tucson, a city 1,745 miles away from Chicago.

Illegal immigration will exist as long as America’s economical abundance persists. People come here for a better life today, just as the English, Spanish, French, Polish, Irish and Italians did decades ago. A wall will not prevent illegal immigration. It will further polarize this great country. Tunnels in Mexico slither below our borders, only to emerge through the floor boards of abandoned homes. The instant Border Patrol finds one tunnel, another is already being built. Don’t put money into the steel beams of isolationism. Put it into our legal system, our think tanks and our research institutes. Before we make America great again, let’s make America think again.

Thomas Doran
Jan. 27

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • conway0516

    I’m confused as to what your argument is. Are you condoning or condemning illegal crossing of the border? Do you want the government to setup water stations to aid border crossings? Should we place more signs highlighting the danger of crossing the border, or provide a distance marker sign to Tuscon so it isn’t confused for Chicago?

    You propose providing more funding for a think tank (as if this doesn’t already exist). Also you propose more funding into the “legal system” – in what way? – free attorneys for illegals? Or further law enforcement personnel?

    If your article was to spark debate, it may have worked only by being extremely confusing and without clear conclusion or argument. You simply stated some facts along with observations from your trip to the border as a presumably Caucasian student as well as what you’ve picked up from your likely liberal-minded professor during semester-long class at a university in northern Indiana, which you use to assert your expertise on the subject.

    But what is your opinion? What do YOU think?

    • Thomas Doran

      This is not an argument but a position of observation, a “viewpoint”.
      My intention is to humanize “illegals” rather than make a claim I am unqualified to make. We share in our ignorance on this issue, hence the call for additional funding to research institutes and think tanks so people smarter than you and me can create solutions. My opinion is that you did not take the time to put yourself into the shoes of migrants but let arrogance override your ability to empathize.

      • conway0516

        Thank you for the clarification.

      • Punta Venyage

        A point on empathizing… Of course empathy is important; it is one of the necessary steps to precede loving others. But let me share three distinct thoughts:

        1) We are limited in time and other resources. There is also the limitation of human attention in that when you pay attention to one thing, the “price” of “paying” attention is that in that specific moment you are not paying attention to everything else. So naturally, how should you prioritize your attention?

        In other words, let’s say right now that I consciously occupy my mind with thoughts and visions of a poverty-stricken family in Mexico, with ragged clothes, in a collapsing infrastructure with dirty water and low food supply. Actually, just think about that controversial 84 Lumber commercial and use it as an example…
        ^^^ Now take a step back (meta) and observe that while you are having this empathetic vision of a Mexican family, you are NOT in that moment empathizing with a starving African child stricken with disease, you are not empathizing with a homeless and forgotten veteran lying on the cold urban sidewalks, you are not empathizing with a Christian in the Middle East on his knees awaiting his fate of decapitation, you are not empathizing with a young black male surrounded by inner city gang violence hoping for a way out,…. And the list goes on.

        So in this point #1, which type of situation should take the highest precedence in our attention/consciousness/empathy? Why should the Mexican family situation take more “empathy real estate” in your mind than some of those who are suffering domestically? Or vs those who are internationally facing far worse situations? Ideally we would be able to help every single person in every single dire circumstance, but clearly there are constraints, and we have to pick and choose our battles.
        2) Point #1 is referring to what battles we choose to fight (or prioritize vs others), but here the question is HOW? What is the actual action step, and what would be appropriate? When talking about this empathy (and let’s confine it to the Mexican family situation, assuming that this is the highest priority), what is the appropriate action step to materialize your empathy?

        Is it a personal gift of money or time to go help these families in a face-to-face basis or through supporting a charitable organization that rebuilds villages in Mexico and offers clean water? Do you prefer to support the cause directly (give 10% of your income, or travel on a missions trip, for example) ?

        Or is it an imposition of a legal mandate to impose on other people to divert their funds towards your cause of empathy vs the cause they would rather prioritize? In other words, is it to pass on the marginal cost of allowing an overcapacity of immigration on to someone else, in the price of increased competition for jobs, reduced wages, or more directly, forcing others’ money to be allocated through handouts (using the implicit threat of violence by government – i.e. pay your taxes)?

        3) Empathy aside, when engaging in the thought experiment of visualizing the experience of another human being for the sake of forming a political view, ask yourself, am I taking a balanced approach in terms of what situation I am choosing to call to mind? In other words, you might have a tendency to consciously visualize the situation of a struggling Mexican, and then formulating your view, but are you also spending adequate time visualizing the situation of a Mexican smuggling drugs, spreading drug addiction in your country, and committing an act of crime (theft, vandalism, murder)?

        You could go ad nauseaum trying to visualize a wide spectrum of individual situations, and that’s why when considering policy you have to think in the AGGREGATE using hard data and statistics. Otherwise you get caught up in the specific anecdote (it goes for both sides, it’s possible to overemphasize the negative as well as the positive). I think your empathy is best used in your individual life and how you treat those you come into contact in your immediate community or for causes you choose to help in farther communities (which is a great modern luxury, because philanthropy didn’t have the reach in the past that it does now). When it comes to shaping policy, which is a grand scale operation, you also have to think on the grand scale.
        People today, it seems, want to virtue signal and feel morally superior by supporting nice sounding ideas verbally, but when it comes to their checkbooks, there is miniscule evidence of the “empathy” they desire to procject.