A calm center for the immigration debate

Emotions are running high in Europe and the US about migrants or refugees. There is a way to keep a civil discourse.

AP Photo
Parliament members holds posters while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers his State of the Union address at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Sept. 9.

In any debate about refugees or migrants, it is all too easy to get swept up in emotion. In Europe, for example, the image of a 3-year-old Syrian boy found drowned on a beach has quickly changed the attitudes of many. In the US, the popularity of Donald Trump jumped when he accused Mexican officials (falsely) of “forcing their most unwanted people into the United States ....” 

The many feelings that surround mass migration, whether they be reactions of sorrow or fear, can often help drive a solution to the problem. Yet they can also derail the civil discourse needed to arrive at a rational consensus. 

Even thoughtful leaders try hard to balance their sentiments about migration. “I find the rhetoric of concern attractive at first but not all the time,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission. Like so many European leaders, Mr. Juncker is trying to “manage” the flow of people into the continent while also resettling them equitably.

In a speech last week, Juncker provided a useful reminder: “We are talking about human beings, we are not talking about numbers.” He said refugees should not be divvied up by religion or race but treated as individuals coming from specific circumstances.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also shown the difficulty of keeping emotions in proper perspective when deciding policy. When confronted recently by a Palestinian girl seeking asylum, Ms. Merkel comforted the girl while also telling her that not every asylum seeker can be accepted in Germany. She was both criticized and praised.

The accuracy of terms about these issues, and the rhetoric employed, can influence the final outcome. In July, British Prime Minister David Cameron used an insect metaphor to refer to migrants as a “swarm of people.” Merkel, on the other hand, gave a stark ultimatum to Europe that its reputation on civil rights “will be destroyed” if its does not accept more refugees.

In the US, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the first candidate to drop out of the 2016 presidential race, offered some helpful comments about immigration during his parting speech this week. He warned fellow Republicans not to “divide the nation further” by catering to nativism. “We can secure the border of this country and reform our immigration system without inflammatory rhetoric, without that base appeal that will try to divide us by race, by culture or creed.”

He went on: “Our brothers and sisters are those who are made in the image of God. And our obligation, after loving God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul is to love our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of where they come from. Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant, it betrays the example of Christ. We can enforce our laws and borders and we can love all who live within our borders without betraying our values. It is time for us to elevate this debate from divisive name-calling....”

The tone of this debate does matter. It is possible to express concern about certain individual immigrants as being a security or economic threat without also resorting to derogatory feelings about race or religion. It is also possible to show compassion when migrants perish in their dangerous journeys while also insisting on border controls. Head and heart need not be in conflict.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to A calm center for the immigration debate
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today