The Immigration Dilemma

The issue of illegal immigration has clearly become a contentious issue in our society. I hear people discuss the issue from a political point of view, an economic point of view, and a personal point of view. I see the arguments getting more heated as the stakes continue to get higher for all of us. When I listen to these arguments, I see that the arguments stem from two very different psychological theories and believe viewing the issue through this lens can help us resolve it.

On the one hand is a point of view that says those who break the law need to be punished; the immigrants need to be sent back to where they came from. On the other hand, is a point of view that says such an action will break up families, send hard-working people back to unsafe homelands, and wreck our economy. The first perspective is rooted in a behaviorist philosophy, the second in a cognitive one.

Behaviorist’s focus is on behavior and its consequences: a behavior that is rewarded is repeated; one that is ignored is reduced to the point of elimination. The most scientific of all the psychological perspectives, behaviorists consider only what can be observed and measured. That simple principle leads them to focus on behavior and eliminate thought and emotion as factors that must be considered. They demonstrate that a rat or a dog will greet us at the door, sit by our feet, walk by our side, because we train them to do so by feeding them. In other words, behavior is the consequence of rewards. There are no shades of gray.

What does this have to do with illegal immigration? Well, for a behaviorist, we must provide consequences for an action or the action will continue to occur. A behaviorist’s view would go something like this: If America allows the illegal immigrants to stay, then we reward them for breaking the rules of entry into our country. Behaviorists contend that they will simply continue to do what we’ve trained them to do. In other words, this “law breaking” behavior, once rewarded, would be generalized, resulting in other laws being broken. In order to prevent this, all who have come illegally must have a consequence so that they (and others) learn to obey the law.

On the other hand, the cognitive perspective believes that a person’s thoughts about the future determine current behavior. For example, if a person believes s/he will succeed in college (a future goal), s/he’ll enroll (a current behavior). If a person believes s/he will not succeed, s/he will not enroll. For cognitive psychologists, everyone is a scientist collecting evidence to confirm or disconfirm their beliefs. The world, consequently, is always a shade of gray.

From this perspective, illegal immigration can be considered a series of thoughts. Americans holding this view think that we do not have to punish those who came illegally; we can instead control current illegal immigration by giving a reasonable goal for future entry. That is, if people know that the process will be streamlined and fair (if we give out enough work visas, for example), they will stop coming illegally. Cognitive theorists would consider the emotions involved in separating families. They would consider the thoughts that were involved in choosing to come illegally – the decision to leave their families behind, to risk all the danger in getting across several borders, the thought that their only chance for a better life was to come to America. These thoughts lead to the idea that illegal immigrants are a part of our heritage; we draw in those who are in search of a better life.

While I have a theoretical preference, I respect the other side. Both have valid points and both have arguments that are worth addressing. It is not until we develop a cognitive-behavioral perspective that the issue can be resolved.

It is time for us to solve this issue – to decide if we believe that humans are the sum total of repeatedly rewarded behaviors or if humans are the sum total of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It is time for us to stop the name-calling and finger pointing and move, instead, towards working to find a solution that addresses the very real problem of violence so severe that humans would go to such extremes to escape it. It is time to come up with a humane plan.



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12 thoughts on “The Immigration Dilemma

  1. I think your conclusion exposes an additional weakness in the behavioral approach. If people are quite literally fleeing for their lives, does increasing the penalty for breaking US law really act as a deterrent? What would you risk to save your life and the lives of your loved ones? If the necessary penalty exceeds what we are willing to tolerate in a free and just society, then the behavioral approach fails to offer any viable solution.

  2. Great post. I agree when you said, “we develop a cognitive-behavioral perspective that the issue can be resolved.” This topic is a very touchy topic because this is an ongoing issue in the U.S and it needs to be solved. As a behaviorist following the rules, is how you have to live because you can’t break the laws. Many people see you a racist just cause you want the best and you want to follow the rules. I believe that we should have a cognitive behavior. Why, we should not let people just cross the borders very easily, but we also should not break up these families and whatever they do and send the hard workers back to their countries. This blog post shows both sides of the story and I agree 100% with you on everything you said above. Hopefully the U.S can find away to have a universal solution to this ongoing problem that is happening when it comes to immigration. Once again, great blog post! Can’t wait to read other upcoming post Dr. Urban.

  3. In the U.S. we have all noticed by now, that our country is divided. Day by day, the problem is getting worse. I think many people have had hidden thoughts and opinions about immigrants that are now unleashing. I believe we should take preventative measures to control the amount of people entering the country, however we should not disperse the hard working families just because a simple one time criminal offense. I believe if the person is a career criminal or has a long criminal history, then s/he should be sent back to s/he country.

  4. Illegal immigration is a ongoing issue and will continue to be an issue especially since the new administration has decided to “tighten up” on this global issue. I think of the issue from a personal point of view. We will often agree that only when you experience something, then it affects you. Although some people think that immigration does not affect them, it certainly does.

    I think that if illegal immigrants breaks the law, they should be punished. I also think that illegal immigrants should be deported if they are a threat to society and do not abide by the law of the land. It clearly doesn’t matter if it’s the United States or not . All countries have laws that we must abide by.

    The issue of illegal entry into the US has been around for a long time. As such I agree with Professor Urban when she states that there is a need to “control current illegal immigration” (Urban). I strongly feel that this issue will be around for many more years.

    Lawyers will continue to make money representing illegal immigrants. And the cycle continues. Above all, it affects all of us

  5. I totally agree with this post, I have managed tl understand and see what you meant how people see immigrants and what they believe should happen if they are not capable of acting correctly while in this country. Although there are people who believe an immigrant should be judged by a behavioral perspective here in the U.S. there are still peoole who simply want each immigrant gone from the U.S. due to the rise in racial discrimination and simply believing that this country is better off without illegal immigrants. Although many may agree with that accusation, Others are able to see those same illegal immigrants who work hard and have an overall goal to have a better future for themselves and for their children and fight against the peoole who want them out.

  6. I found this article very informative because I was able to catch a glimpse of both sides from the article. I don’t agree with sending the illegal immigrants back to where they came from before because some immigrants do follow rules and try to live the “American Dream”. But allowing illegal immigrants has a downside because some will take advantage of this opportunity and will lead to numerous repercussions. In my opinion you should just monitor the illegal immigrants which will help to see which ones are really the trouble makers of today’s society.

  7. In a sense, aren’t we all immigrants in America? After all the first people in
    America were the Native Americans, up until Columbus showed up. In my own opinion, it doesn’t matter from what country you are because we are all on the same planet. The problem with immigration was that there are so many sides to include or not include. We all want to do the right thing, but if we allow someone to stay in the country and they are illegal that would cause a problem. America is a country full of immigrants. The article “The Immigration Dilemma” talks about the many problems of immigration and how difficult it is. Many believe that if we keep illegal immigrants in our country without any consequences then they will continue to break the law and break even more laws. Some believe that it is wrong and we should let people live with their families. The problem is that there are people who bring drugs and cause a lot of problems. There are also good people who come to this country and try to somewhat make it a better place and to live the American dream with their families. The article summarizes this problem perfectly. It is hard to differentiate between who to trust and let stay and who to deport. This causes a lot of hate and conflict between people. My question is, why can’t we all just live in peace? It doesn’t matter where we live, we are all on the same planet and we have only one chance to live this life. I like this article because of the fact that it talks about so many problems with illegal immigration and the many points of view people have about what is going on. Some people want peace, while some people just cause problems. The point is, the answer to solving the problem of illegal immigration is easy; it is just people who are complicating things.

  8. This was a great post. Immigration in America has been a highly debated topic throughout current times, especially with a new president coming into office. As Dr. Urban described within the article, people often relate to a psychological theory which encourages a certain type of thinking to occur. These different cognitive patterns both have valid and interesting viewpoints which could essentially be endlessly debated among peers. Furthermore I completely agree with Dr. Urban in regards to a mixture of a cognitive-behavioral approach becoming a possible solution, based solely on its holistic approach. Although a concrete solution may never exist, individuals including myself gravitate toward the side which seems most rationale.

    Personally I tend to lean more towards the behaviorists way of thinking. I believe that consequences are needed based on the United States’s reputation of upholding their laws and regulations. If the implemented laws created to stop illegal immigration were created, why would they not be enforced like every other law? I completely understand that America was created by immigrants from all over the world gathering together in the “melting pot” but we need to look towards the future. America is no longer a young nation and should start redirecting their interests to modern times and issues. We simply need to start reinforcing the consequences of breaking the law while allowing legal immigration to rise and flourish for all potential newcomers. By no means would I suggest the United States to close down their borders, but we should only accept foreign individuals in a legal fashion.

  9. Interesting how these different theories of psychology can perfectly describe this topic of controversy. Behavioral psychology is much more simple and maybe even idealistic. It’s simple in that we will successfully train animals with this method (i.e. positive/negative reinforcements). However, humans can be more complex than animals.
    Behavioral psychology is ideal in that if everyone “just followed the rules” there would be no crime and the world would be a better place, “ideally”.
    Except not all rules are necessarily good. For example, slavery was once legal. It’s a stretch to compare slavery to illegal immigration, yes. But, both were/are thought of as less than human. Illegal immigrants are being categorized as criminals, forgetting they are also human. It’s disheartening to think that the immigrants, that risked their lives to come to this country in hope of a better future for their family, will be thrown back to square one. It’s terrifying for those being deported because that was probably their family’s only chance of survival. Most illegal immigrants don’t break the law for themselves, they do it for their children, their spouses, their parents, etc.

  10. Lauren Asen
    I found this article really interesting because it put a political argument out of that context and into a psychological context. Personally, I believe that in the behavioral standpoint, where if an individual comes into a country illegally they are committing a crime and should be sent back. They understand that it is a crime to “sneak” into another country. Of course there are arguments about illegal immigration in-between these two arguments, but I do not personally believe that this issue will be resolved soon. The sides are too far apart. I find it really interesting to take away “democrat” and “republican” and replace it with “behavioral” and “cognitive.” I believe that without the political parties, this issue would be a lot easier to resolve. When learning about behavioral psychology and cognitive psychology I tend to favor cognitive psychology since it seems more realistic to me. Behaviorist psychology would say that if everyone just followed the rules there would be no crime, and I disagree with that. Some people commit crime for the adrenaline rush, etc. I believe that crime rates would decrease but not that crime would come to a halt. Overall, it really surprised me after reading this article that I had a behaviorist point of view, considering how I never really agreed with the behaviorist theory.

  11. A student of mine wrote a very compassionate and thoughtful response. It follows: “I think if maybe we could take a humanistic approach the issue could be resolved for the long term without any need for punishments. Humanistic psychology looks at both sides and believes actions are connected to our inner feelings and self image. A person coming to the United States illegally is doing so for a better future because they feel that in their home country they have no future. Regardless of what has happened or is happening to elicit these feelings it is the actual feeling of despair and hopelessness that prompts action. When people are for punishment of these people discussing law breaking and such it is the emotion of fear prompting action. If we could somehow get rid of that fear, or at least lessen it, we would be better equipped as nation to help those in need without judgment as was done for the very first colonizers many years ago. We are a nation built on immigration, there is no denying that fact, however the process to come here on a visa is excruciatingly long for people who are trying to escape a life or death situation. Immigration has always been an issue because people are afraid, I personally think this is an ingrained fear because the real American history is one of illegal immigrants going genocidal on the natives, but that may be for a different discussion. People are afraid of losing their jobs because the illegals will do it cheaper, that’s a business owner problem not a worker problem.
    They are afraid these illegal immigrants will continue to break even more laws, but as the humanist perspective illustrates, once people basic needs are met there is very little need for deviance. Although the development of a behaviorist-cognitive perspective is something I often wish we had as well, by time it is developed, acknowledged as a true science and implemented the damage would have been done”.

  12. In this discussion, I have to say it is hard for me to avoid having a bias since I am an immigrant. I consider that the behaviorist perspective might work if this world was a perfect and pacific place because nobody would have to move illegally to another country, and who did that should receive punishment for breaking the law. Unfortunately, this world is the complete opposite of a peaceful or pacific place; instead, in some parts of the world, life is a blessing, and having three meals a day is a dream. In the same way, dreaming of going to college is just an unreachable fantasy. For that reason, (and as an immigrant), I know how it feels to dream to move to the United States to merely work and being able to buy simple items such as a TV or a laptop, and not having to work for months to be able to do so. In the same way, dreaming of pursuing a college education in such a great place as this nation, comes with excitement because that dream turns into a possibility. I have to say I agree with the cognitive point of view because I understand what means to come to this nation with the simple dream of having a good life. I will always put into consideration what involves deporting someone for illegally moving to this country. I will always study what they do, what their family does, how deporting that person would affect their family. I believe that even when that person might have come to the United States illegally, they might be better citizens than a massive number of persons who were born here. In conclusion, I consider that the cognitive perspective has stronger reasonings since it puts into consideration the aspects exposed before, and therefore should be applied more often in discussions about immigration.

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