The issue with empathy and immigration policy-making
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More proof of the mainstream media’s lack of balance in covering immigration policy was revealed last week when the Washington Post was caught soliciting immigration attorneys for their help in finding sympathetic “undocumented families” to report on in Maryland.

As the reporter wrote in her request, she was hoping to get readers to “place themselves in the shoes of someone who feels no long welcome.” The solicitation was a perfect example of what immigration-control advocates have struggled with for a long time: the injection of empathy in the immigration policy debate.


Former President Obama’s 2012 “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program is still alive and well in the new administration, providing amnesty and work-permits to hundreds of thousands of so-called “dreamers,” or those illegal aliens falling under the criteria of the 24-times-rejected DREAM Act.


Why it still stands is surely testament to the moral blackmail employed by the anti-borders lobby, specifically, the daily hectoring of the public about the need to empathize with illegal aliens, to “put yourselves in their shoes”, to “think about their families”, etc.

But injecting empathy into policy decisions can be disastrous. In his new book, “Against Empathy,” Yale psychologist Paul Bloom argues that it acts like a spotlight focusing our attention on individual cases and “causes us to lose sight of larger tragedies.”

It’s “spotlight nature,” he writes, “renders it innumerate and myopic”, disallowing people to see the “effects of our actions on groups of people” and encouraging insensitivity to statistical data and estimated costs and benefits. As Mother Teresa herself admitted, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

Immigration-control advocates know the spotlight problem well. How to communicate the broad effects of unregulated immigration to non-systemic thinkers, i.e., excessive immigration acts like a weight on working-class wages, makes the rich richer, expands income inequality, puts pressure on public assets, contributes to urban sprawl, increases real estate prices, etc.

These effects, although disastrous, are diffuse and tend to lag, meaning they do not resonate well with hyper-empathic types.

For illegal-alien advocates, however, creating empathy’s easy. It’s simple to make the “suffering” of illegal aliens feel real, concrete, and visible. Using Bloom’s metaphor, it’s easy to put under the “spotlight.” But as he warns, spotlights leave everything around them in the darkness and because what you see depends on where you choose to point the spotlight, “its focus is vulnerable to your biases.”

As every political consultant knows, Americans bear a heavy sentimental bias towards children. And perhaps here more than in any other country, using children politically works. Just after DACA was implemented, one such consultant told NPR, the “thoughts people might bring to a particular issue tend to get left by the wayside when they’re watching an ad that features a kid.” On immigration specifically, they said, “People can easily pass judgment on those who came to the United States illegally”, but that it was “much harder to dismiss their children.” No wonder then, for their first big push for administrative amnesty, Obama and his advisors chose to copy the child-focused gimmicky found in the DREAM Act.

Empathy-politics, however, diverts otherwise good people from making real, effective reforms. Writing about the refugee-crisis in his just-released book, “Against The Double Blackmail,” NYU professor and avowed socialist Slavoj Zizek says that it’s “not enough to do (what we consider to be) the best for the refugees, receive them with open hands [and] show sympathy and generosity to the utmost of our ability.” Instead, he says, we must get to the heart of the matter and “avoid the false generosity that simply makes us feel good.” As he asks, “are we not doing this to forget what is required?”

What’s required for the refugee-crisis at least, Zizek says, is deep change. Instead of letting them leave, we must offer them a “common struggle” where they are. We must “fight for a positive universal project shared by all participants”, specifically, he writes, the twin struggles against corruption and the globalist elite.

This is no different for the US vis-à-vis illegal-alien source-nations. So chronically corrupt is Latin America that it’s been almost completely sidestepped as a US manufacturing base by China; a country not only thousands of miles away, but one whose culture, political system, and approach to law, is far more alien to ours than Latin America’s.

In Mexico, for instance, New York Times shareholder Carlos Slim has absorbed so much of the nation’s wealth his assets represent a full 6 percent of its GDP — take away oil and remittances and it’d likely approach a fifth. By taking potential protesters off Latin America’s streets, mass outmigration and the great erasure of our borders acts like a safety-valve for their corrupt elite, relieving them of the pressure needed to commit to real domestic reforms. 

In short, immigration and amnesty is a remedy that doesn’t cure, but prolongs the disease.

Calling illegal alien minors and young adults “dreamers” is to say their homelands are lost causes.

I don’t think that’s the case. No one is better to effectuate the social reforms needed in Latin America than the “dreamers” themselves. The countries they dream to leave should be places they dream to reform. 

Ian Smith is an investigative associate at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.