Refugees: Threat or menace?

Dina Gusovsky is a writer for NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers who came to the United State with her parents in the 1980s. Like many immigrants today the family was escaping a dangerous situation in their home country. She talks about that here, and about more recent refugees as well:


The quotation from Ronald Reagan that she mentions came from his Statement on United States Immigration and Refugee Policy” issued July 30, 1981, less that six months into his first term. You can click on the title to read the whole thing, but here are three key paragraphs:

Our nation is a nation of immigrants. More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands. No free and prosperous nation can by itself accommodate all those who seek a better life or flee persecution. We must share this responsibility with other countries.


• At the same time, we must ensure adequate legal authority to establish control over immigration: to enable us, when sudden influxes of foreigners occur, to decide to whom we grant the status of refugee or asylee; to improve our border control; to expedite (consistent with fair procedures and our Constitution) return of those coming here illegally; to strengthen enforcement of our fair labor standards and laws; and to penalize those who would knowingly encourage violation of our laws. The steps we take to further these objectives, however, must also be consistent with our values of individual privacy and freedom.


• Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status. At the same time, in so doing, we must not encourage illegal immigration.

Lots of people I’ve listened to about this have very strong opinions that are too often based on major misconceptions. Border security and deportations drastically increased under Obama, for example, but a lot of people think otherwise. The number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. is not much different from 20 years ago. It isn’t economically feasible to deport everybody who came here against the law. Both the direct costs and the negative practical consequences would be enormous. (Do the math.) So-called “chain migration” doesn’t produce a flood of immigrants because only a limited number of immediate family members qualify and even for them the cases generally take years to process. And so on. I agree that we should have secure borders and that some unauthorized immigrants ought to be locked up, but in a lot more cases it makes far more economical and practical sense (not to mention being more just) to use fines (which bring in money) rather than imprisonment (which costs arms and legs).

This is too big a subject for one post, so for now I’ll leave it here.

[Updated 2018 August 18 to fix several typos.]

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