In the midst of the recent media hysteria over immigration policy, it’s important to consider that partisan politics loves to dwell in a constant state of controversy, because this encourages tribalism. Consider TIME’s latest cover. It’s a complete sham, intentionally misleading, and its obvious purpose is simply agenda-driven messaging to continue the hysteria. Much like two teams clashing on a sports field with the loyal fans’ emotions stirred into a frenzy and the goal simply to dominate and win, this kind of politicking isn’t framed toward reaching genuine solutions.
If our aim is only to win, then we are measuring the success of our national policy merely by the margin of victory over the other party’s ideas — regardless of whose ideas are actually better — rather than the substantive merit of our law and its consistency with our constitutional framework.
So, when it comes to the immigration debate, both sides should dispense with the rhetoric, the emotional appeals, the arrogance, and the “us vs. them” mentality. Because if we’re truly going to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, then “we the people” must mean we are a team, pursuing a common goal together, even when we disagree on how best to reach that goal. That’s the nature of rational public discourse and recognizing that a good solution can come from anyone is circumspect and reasonable.
At the founding of our country, “we the people” agreed fundamentally about the important, foundational building blocks of government. Our founders unanimously signed the Declaration of Independence that set forth our country’s worldview statement on the purpose of government, the role of civil government in society, and that our individual unalienable rights do not come from government, but from God. To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Without understanding the foundational origin of our rights being pre-political and endowed by our Creator and that the civil government’s sole legitimate purpose is to protect and preserve those rights, when we get to the top-level policy issues and questions, society is totally lost about how to even begin the conversation because we aren’t aware of our government’s role and our common aim.
Imagine being thrown into the middle of a football game with absolutely no idea of the rules, the players, the strategies, and especially the goal, and then being expected to contribute meaningfully to your team. This is modern-era partisan politics. Social media armchair coaches are shouting at their favorite sides, having absolutely no idea the playbook or the rules. How can we possibly engage in policy discourse when so many “players” in Congress and on the bench don’t even know the Constitution? Most diehard sports fans at least know the rules, and the players must!
When it comes to any policy issue, we have to first understand our government system and its role and responsibility. It’s an unpopular truth in the context of immigration, but our American borders is not just a power of government, but an obligation and responsibility of government.
The current media hysteria has focused almost exclusively on an emotional appeal, while the other extreme response has met the very real issue of family separation with almost no compassion. Why don’t we all take a minute to consider that since our government’s chief obligation is to protect its citizens’ unalienable rights, our policy of how we deal with people who cross our borders illegally should come from this constitutional foundation? The problem is that the Constitution is usually invoked only as an appeal to authority, without actual acquiescence to the rule of law as the foundation for solutions.
Watch your average cable news panel as evidence of this. You’re likely to hear multiple token references to the Constitution lacking any reference to what the document actually says or any substantive analysis. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I believe we can do better. I also believe “we the people” have all the shared commonalities necessary to start advancing real solutions. For example, regardless of what the headlines would have you believe, I haven’t seen anyone credible say we should treat any humans (legal status or not) without dignity, compassion, or even due process.
President Trump has made a substantial first step by inviting Congress to do their job in his Executive Order Wednesday. Unfortunately, there are substantial doubts whether Congress will actually take the invitation to address family separation issues and other immigration policy, such as DACA, and Congress’ response will show whether each side is truly interested in governing, or just clashing on a partisan sports field.
Despite knee-jerk calls of "dictator" from the political left, President Trump has demonstrated time and again a willingness to recognize the limited powers of the executive office, standing in stark contrast to previous administrations which have intentionally sought to expand the power of the office. This is no small contribution to the current immigration debate and should be built upon, rather than torn down for political profit. The broken windows theory is very relevant here.
I’ve written previously on some commonsense, nonpartisan solutions we should all be able to agree on, because policy begins with a constitutional foundation. Congress can provide solvency to immigration issues through its mandate in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. It’s their job, not the job of the president or the courts.
Jenna Ellis (@jennaellisJDFI) is director of public policy at the James Dobson Family Institute. She is a constitutional law attorney, radio host, and the author of The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution.