The Immigration Dilemma – Part 2

As the conversation about immigrants continues in the news, I would like to add the humanist view to continue our conversation. A psychologist in the humanist tradition is concerned with the discrepancy between our ideal and real selves. As an ideal American, we embrace the downtrodden, we allow anyone and everyone to pursue the American dream, and we are a melting pot of cultures. Our real selves – the Americans we are – might have some reservations about these statements. We may have fears that if we allow these things to happen, there will be “less” for “us” – fewer jobs, fewer chances to achieve the dream, and an end to whatever American culture really is. We fear that sharing what we have will result in our own destitution.

A humanist would examine these issues via the “shoulds” we say. We should help; we should look out for ourselves; we should help only the children. For a humanist, the dilemma is resolved, in large part, by changing the word “should” to “need” or “want”. We should help becomes either we need to help or we want to help. We should look out for only ourselves might become we need to consider our own situation as well as that of others.  The idea is for all of you to play with the spoken and implied “should” statements you hear and say. This will help to reconcile the ideal and real selves that make up the American you are.

In that spirit, I am connecting with a guest writer for my blog. He is an adjunct professor earning his PhD in sociology and he is my son. I hope his words will inspire you to think critically and humanely. I hope it will facilitate your exploration of the question of our real and ideal selves and help you to decide the kind of American you want to be and the kind of country America needs to be.

Thoughts on the Immigration Ban: A Challenge to the American Conscience

By Nicholas Urban, PhD Student – New School for Social Research

I very rarely speak out in a public sense because I know that the words we say to each other in public are often “empty”, and that the “verbal jousting” of political rhetoric that occurs at dinner tables, restaurants, and social media, are just a “game” that we like to play with our friends and families. But we have to stop playing this game and put down the ideological masks we use to play it in this moment.

These walls that are being constructed are not rhetoric. They are real.

As a American, a sociologist, a catholic, and countless other identities I could list out, I have been taught that empathy and compassion are requirements of membership in the human race. Empathy and compassion are at the core. Furthermore, they are the very essence of the notion of “human rights” in a democracy. In the United States, the phrase in our constitution “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is not a suggestion. They are inalienable rights.

I have read and studied for the effects that fear (both justified and unjustified) and instilling hatred can have on populations. I have read how, as a result of this fear and hatred, neighbors can – willingly – murder their neighbors in the name of an ideology, ethnicity, or culture. I have met holocaust survivors and Rwandan Genocide survivors. I have listened to them talk about their experiences. I have cried countless times as I struggle to comprehend how we as human beings can justify standing by and doing nothing as men, women and children are slaughtered in the tens and hundreds of thousands. I have grown disheartened as I have seen a growing sense of fear of the “others” around the world translate into walls and bombs.

I implore you to watch videos of “barrel bombs” being dropped on Syrian cities – bombs that are unguided and indiscriminate, and thus kill indiscriminately. I implore you to think what the conditions must be like for a person to risk their lives and safety to cross the southern border of the United States in search of a better life. I implore you to imagine your life as one of these people. I implore you to think of what it must be like for a person your age and gender, of what it must be like for a family, or what it must be like for a small child. Just for a moment.

And then I want you to think of why someone would want to become an American.

To those that say “what of the risks to our safety and security”, I reply that there are risks associated with every action and non-action we take in our personal lives and as a society. There are no guarantees that an immigrant will not become radicalized or a criminal, just like there are no guarantees that those of us who are already American citizens will not become radicalized or a criminal. Stating otherwise just creates a false dichotomy and inspires fear and hatred of the 134,000,000 people from the seven countries affected by the immigration ban, the 11,000,000 undocumented immigrants residing in the United States, and the 122,000,000 Mexicans that share our southern border.

There are real problems that we have with border security, immigration, and terrorism. But there are compassionate solutions to illegal immigration and the refugee crisis in Syria. We can achieve our safety and our security and simultaneously maintain our American values of compassion and empathy. Simply creating walls where there should be none because of fear and hatred of the “others” goes against every value and ideal that we have and hold dear not only as Americans, but also as human beings. It is just not the right thing to do.

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24 thoughts on “The Immigration Dilemma – Part 2

  1. I feel compelled to respond to your post, more specifically to what your son wrote. I am sitting at my parents’ home now, with my mom eating breakfast. (I work from home on Fridays.) We read this together and cried while nodding our heads because your son, Professor Urban couldn’t have said it any better! Coming from an Iranian and Korean background, my sister and I were taught that we are all equal—because my parents have experienced inequality and racial discrimination which is something that they would never wish on anyone. Black, white, purple, blue, everyone is equal. You treat people the way that you want to be treated. Everyone deserves a chance. Everyone deserves to be happy. We are all humans, breathing the same air, with the same goals, the same love for life and our families.

    It was a very dark time during the campaign and is even darker now with the election of President Trump. Our country is truly divided. There are moments where I find myself in total disbelief at how we are treating our brothers and sisters. We have reached a very low point in our history where we are discriminating, harming, and disrespecting our neighbors, classmates, friends, and other citizens of the world who are simply trying to pursue a better life. I too cry and feel so disheartened by everything that has been happening, not only in the United States but in the world. Our lack of empathy kills me. Our lack of knowledge about religions, culture, and history kills me! How can people be so cruel and ignorant?

    But during this time, I have learned two things. I have learned patience and the willingness to teach to those who have an open mind or who at least have an open ear. “Teaching” because people fear things that they aren’t familiar with or understand; cultures that aren’t like ours, languages that don’t sound like ours, people that don’t look like us. If they are willing to listen, I try to show them pictures of different places, direct them to resources out there, remind them how the United States became so great, and share with them my own parents’ stories about the hardships of being immigrants. I tell them about the compassionate Americans that my own parents and grandparents came across when they were struggling to assimilate and trying to build a better future. “Patience” because without it, I become a foolish and angry person, arguing aimlessly about President Trump and how wrong anyone who supports him and his ideas is. “Patience” because everything takes time. Changing someone’s mind and truly opening eyes that were shut before, takes some chipping away.

    We must continue to stand together and share these perspectives with people who don’t understand or who chose not to see that there is a world outside of the one at our front door. This universe is made up of people from all different places, who come from different cultures and speak different languages. Can you image a world without these rich cultures and history, beautiful places and people, and incredibly delicious foods? Where would we be? Who would we be? I hope that in my lifetime and the next, I never see a world like that.

  2. I grew up in the projects, in Yonkers Ny. As I grew up I was surrounded by different people from a different race, religion, color. Many spoke different languages, ate different foods, dressed es differently and lived different then me, but never did I question if they were American. I grew up thinking we were all American, all here for the same purpose to grow up, and be able to support our loved ones. As I grew older I started to notice that here in Ny the love for money almost every time is more important then family, friends or even ones own health.
    When I turned 12 years old I moved to PuertoRico with my mother as her and my dad got divorced. Living over there made me love more my culture, the people and understand that in my blood runs, African blood, Taino Indian blood and Spanish blood due to the slave ships that docked at PR, when Columbus discovered (invaded) PR. Knowing that I had such a diverse heritage I began to learn more and appriecate the different cultures around the world when I moved back at the age of 19. Now as a 29 year old man I fear for what will come next. As trump ran for president we learned that racism wasn’t dead it was a sleeping giant. With the words and actions from Trump all that awoke. Many fear that by allowing immigrants in it will destroy us, well we are all immigrants, and I’m pretty sure we’re doing a lot of destroying here in our country and around the world. They say they take our jobs and don’t pay taxes, many that I know have terrible jobs but do it with love and honor because it’s what supports their family here and back in their countries. Many if not all would love to become legal so they can contribute more but all Trumo wants is to build a wall. A wall will never stop anyone from coming in or going out, but the damage it will cost and the message it will send around the world will stop the world to want to unite and love each other like we ARE suppose to. I wrote a quotes years ago and everyday it becomes true. “Love and peace is all we need, but where there is hate and greed, love and peace will never Be.

  3. I AGREE WITH COMMENT FROM MISHAN WHEN SHE SAID ” I were taught that we are all equal—because my parents have experienced inequality and racial discrimination which is something that they would never wish on anyone. Black, white, purple, blue, everyone is equal. You treat people the way that you want to be treated. Everyone deserves a chance. Everyone deserves to be happy. We are all humans, breathing the same air, with the same goals, the same love for life and our families.” I GREW UP THE SAME WAY AND WANT MY GENERATION TO UNDERSTAND THAT. I BELIEVE EVERYONE ARE HARD WORKING IF THEY PUT THEIR MIND TO IT AND NOT JUST BECAUSE OF UR RACE OR THE COLOR OF YOUR SKIN. I BELIEVE EVERYONE HAVE THE ABILITY TO DO MORE. NOW BEING THAT TRUMP IS PRESIDENT PUT US IN A VERY LOVE STANDARD OF WHAT AND WHO WE ARE.

  4. It is a pleasure to read such inspiring words. I am a legal immigrant who came to 🇺🇸 at 16 years old. Now i am 31 and for a long time i feel this is my country. I live in Yonkers,NY and it is so wonderful to be part of A diverse community. It is very painful to see and hear so much hate. As Mr. Urban mentions ” empathy and compassion are the requirements of membership in the human race”! Well said and Wise words. We are 1 race , lets get along. Lets get pass our features and skin color. We all have the same common goal ,to be happy!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and comments. It is so important that we help each other remember that empathy and compassion truly are present in us.

  5. Ideologically I agree with everything that’s being said, but I also think that immigration is a big problem. I obviously don’t agree with trumps proposed solutions, but I also don’t agree with why it is a problem.

    I don’t think illegal immigrants are dangerous criminals, that they are taking our jobs, or that they are a drain on the economy. Sure there will always those bad apples, but I see just the opposite every day – they help the economy. A huge percentage of my clients pay illegal immigrants cash off the books to avoid paying minimum wage, and to avoid paying various kinds of insurance/taxes on those wages and for those employees. Take these illegals out of the equation, and many small businesses would be put out of business (at least in the short term. There are valid arguments to be made for how they would actually benefit in the long term, but that’s a different discussion and I’m not nearly educated enough on the specifics to talk about it intelligently).

    I think illegal immigration (and legal) is a problem because this country is not what it once was. We are bursting at the seams with people, and we can’t take care of the people who are already here (poor, elderly, veterans), so I’m not sure taking in more people is a good idea.

    I have made the argument many times that if the framers of the constitution saw guns today, how they were used and what they were capable of, it’s fair to speculate that they wouldn’t make the right to bear arms an inalienable right. Point being, as times change sometimes ideals must change. Yes, this country was built on immigrants, but for much of our history those immigrants were filling a population vacuum. Give us your tired, your weary, etc etc is what made this country great, but I’m not sure it’s feasible at this point in our history.

    Maybe I’m wrong. I’m not even sure if I fully agree with what I’m saying. But I think this part of the issue is often left unaddressed by both sides.

  6. This blog was interesting and touching. All of my mothers family come from the Dominican Republic, and this country helped them for better jobs and opportunities. My father is full Italian but born here. His grandparents came from Italy and they had a better life over here. This country helped them by getting a better job and to live in a big house. I think the problem with people in general especially in this country is that they focus on first world problems, such as materialistic things, competing with one another, and fighting. While other people are fighting for their lives or getting sent back to their own country where they would most likely have less opportunities people in America don’t appreciate anything. I am saying this from experience if more people came together and maybe helped one another instead of focusing on negative things maybe this country would be much better. This country has a lot of disrespect whether it is with race or even having a job title. This country is not going to get far with all this hatred for one another people need to open their eyes and start appreciating what they take for granted when in other countries people have nothing. America is a country of opportunities people need to stop ruining it by focusing on point less matters. They need to wake up and start being respectful to one another and let everything go. Such as racism and fighting. America needs to wake up and start realizing what every one of our family members really came here for. For a better life and opportunity for their future and future generations.

  7. I come from German and Italian decent. Although I do not have my own experiences of immigration I have been told some by my grandmother. She came over from Italy on a boat called the “Andre Doria” when she was 12 years old. I believe Eisenhower was the current president. There as issues I am sensitive to and others that I have not. My personal beliefs regarding illegal immigrants here is pretty basic. I do believe these productive law biding immigrants (illegal ones) should absolutely have the right to stay here and not be thrown out. They should also be allowed to stay here while in the process of becoming a citizen if you are already here. Now, on the other hand, if you are a criminal and or someone who is feeding off the government and using the money from my taxes to live your life here, that I am not okay with. There are so many terrible stories of children or family member near border lines being killed by an illegal immigrant and to think that it could have been avoided if we had a better immigration process is bothersome. I can’t Imagine begin the father of the child that was killed or the husband of a wife who was killed. I also understand that there are plenty of people who NEED government services to get back on their feet and that is good and fine. But, when you are on the services for a VERY long time and do not show the drive to change your life to get off the services that I DO NOT have sympathy for. With all that being said I believe everyone in this world should be given the opportunity to come here I do not believe families should be broken up but I do believe the way in which we control our borders and let people in needs to change. Maybe find a way to make the process quicker for the people trying to start a life here so they don’t feel compelled to come illegally. My Immigrant grandmother even agrees on these subjects.

    Go USA! All are welcome!!!!


  8. Reading this article, it only reminded me of a video I saw earlier this week that was showing the difference in fears in children who live in America and children who live in places like Syria. It was very saddening to understand that because of bombings in these places their childhood was practically ripped away from them. For example, the American children said they were afraid of the dark or spiders and monsters whereas children from Syria explained only how they lived in constant fear of bombings living in danger and saying how they feared for their own lives.
    I agree with the fact that we can not risk saying “should” anymore but instead say “will” in order to help these children live the life they deserve, the life that was ripped away from them. People must educate themselves on matters like this before considering agreeing with the immigration ban or blaming someone else. This only separates us and tears us apart from what principle this country was built on that “we are all created equal”.

    1. Your description of the fears expressed by children in America compared to those in Syria really gives all of us so much to think about.

  9. I’m think many people like to point fingers to solve an issue and get it over with. Like trump and his association in the past couple of months they have been hounding undocumented immigrants as the sole problem to crime and lose in money. What he and a lot of people might be forgetting is what this article is saying. We are all humans.
    “American” is just an association or tittle if you will. People are people and in fact most of the population that’s in jail are American citizens. Overall though I agree with this post it was very well written and clear. Great job ! I cant wait to read more !

  10. The “Immigration Dilemma” is an extremely complex issue & it is essential that we humans make a conscious effort to “think critically and humanely” (as you so perfectly expressed it). It was very interesting to read about it from the different psychological perspectives, as well as a sociological viewpoint. I also recently came across a quote from a speech by President Obama, where he described the need for revising immigration laws: ” Today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it. Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.” I wish I had some idea how to fix it, when Congress itself seems totally broken to me!

  11. Today one of my patients from my dialysis center came in and informed us that he was leaving and going back to Mexico. He told us that his wife was fired from her job, and so was his daughter because they didn’t have proper documentation. They have been living here for the past 20 plus years never got in trouble or anything, but now feared that one may get caught and deported. That was one of the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with and listen to as a healthcare worker. Knowing how serious his medical condition is and knowing that his chances to live in his country with this illness is very hard. This is the America we live in now. The only way we can fix this problem is that we come together as One Human Race.

  12. I agree with what Susana said “We are 1 race , lets get along. Lets get pass our features and skin color.” I mean honestly why does it matter if someone wasn’t born in the United States? My grandmother came from Cuba to the United States when she was in middle school, and used to work for the board of education, and is now a part time substitute teacher. She has her papers, but what I’m trying to say is everyone has an ambition, everyone wants to attain something. People who come from other countries to the United States with or without getting their papers should be able to live a free life just like the people who were born here in the US. They come to the US to live a better life for themselves or for their family, they want to achieve their goals here. Trump shouldn’t take that away from them. Just like the saying goes “We are all born to live, we are all born to excel, we are all born to dream, we are all born to succeed.. but most importantly we are all born to do something extraordinary.”

  13. Reading this was so inspiring. We live in a world full of hate. I love how Mr. Urban mentioned ” empathy and compassion are the requirements of membership in the human race”. I think as people should treat others with respect and equality. Everyone should be happy. I was born in NJ and moved to NY when i was 9. Yes it was hard but i got used to it. I was taught to never judge a book by it’s cover. & i learned that us americans are 1 and we shall stand together. People being sent back to their countries isn’t a good thing for Trump to do after so many years they been in the U.S. People have love ones here and are not ready for them to leave. WE live in a world so cruel.

  14. As Nick Urban’s former high school English instructor I am extremely proud to have read his comments on immigration, proud of the intelligent human being he is and of his achievements in life. His article reflects the very”empathy and compassion” he speaks of as being part of being an American, an empathy and compassion he has embodied since I have known him. It also reflects the values with which he has been raised. I am very honored to have been a part of the life of an intelligent, thoughtful young man.

  15. As the crisis in Syria became the main news here in the USA we all started to talk about it. The videos of the kids, men and women dying because of the chemicals broke all of our hearts. Then again many voted for Trump and loved when he said no more refugees. Well those that died are also refugees. They have become prisoners in their own countries. President Assad has done what ever he wants to his people, being backed up by other countries. I don’t agree with war but we must protect human lives. By building bridges and not walls. By creating a better system and allowing those that are living in fear to leave there and live a better life somewhere else. It’s not fair nor do I believe it’s right that a child is being killed, gassed or bomb and we as humans aren’t acting on it.

  16. I really liked this post because as a society we should show more empath towards each other and it really put things into perspective on the immigration dilemma

  17. Kira wrote to me by email and her comments were too meaningful not to share: “When having the conversation surrounding immigration many Americans tends to forget that all of our ancestors were immigrant none of us are true “Americans”. Europeans were the ones who discovered America but they weren’t the first inhabitants Native Americans were. The Europeans colonized the land then many years later Africans were taken against their will and forced to pick cotton. Then we forced the Chinese to build railroads from the East to the West coast. During World War II Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps because they couldn’t be trusted. While the Cold War was occurring Russians weren’t much liked. All of these situations are examples of how Americans are so used of isolating a specific race, making them feel like they owe us something, stripping them of their culture and forcing them to acclimate to our society. The Statue of Liberty doesn’t stand on Ellis Island for anything. She is a symbol of the American dream. She was the first thing my grandmother saw coming to the United States for the first time. She brings about new hopes, unfulfilled dreams, and new beginnings. That’s the true symbol of America: New Beginnings. I’ve always been someone who embraces another culture and people. For me it’s what everyone should do but that’s not how everyone works. People believe immigrants are here to take our jobs, but aren’t they the jobs we as Americans don’t want. Jobs like working in fast food or landscaping, maybe even contractors. The problem with our president is that he believes he can make a dying profession reappear. He promised Middle America that their jobs will be saved knowing that there is no need for steel or mines any longer when machines have already taken over. These false hopes have been created in these people’s minds because that’s all they know. They have no desire of finding something else to do with their skills. So their anger and frustration is taken out on the unfair world and those who feel entitled attack those who are working hard” – Thank you Kira!

  18. I personally come from a family that is originally from Mexico and that alone is targeted a lot today especially by our own president. My parents came into this country to start a new niche and provide a better future for not just me but for my brothers. I am very grateful for what my parents had to sacrifice in order to provide a better future for me that they knew would not be possible back in Mexico. I am a good person, they are great hard working people who have been discriminated against and labelled as part of what president Trump has said to be which is rapist, drug dealers, violent people. They in no way have earned that level of discrimination and it hurts to seem them labelled that way since they’re some of the best people within our community. Today my parents and I have worked through the struggles and fight against the people who try to label them or anyone else for something they’re not. We live in a time where racism has taken over the minds of many people especially against immigrants but it’s the power to fight back and stand up for yourself that will outstand and push those people away.

  19. Empathy and compassion are a requirement as a member of the human race is a very powerful statement, and couldn’t be more correct. I have lived my life having empathy and compassion for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, or culture. Now with many Americans, empathy and compassion have been overshadowed by the fear of the unknown and hatred toward entire communities for the actions of few. I believe many people buy into creating the walls between us because they only see the fear and refuse to see anything else. Many Americans are now blinded by fear because it is constantly preached and broadcasted in our society because we know that is what gets attention. As long as we live in fear and hatred, we will never be able to achieve world peace, which is something I truly hope to see in my lifetime. But everyday i feel that dream moves further and further away.

  20. Applying theoretical perspectives to the immigration dilemma is an interesting exercise in developing empathy. However, the ability to “take sides” hinges upon social positioning. I think part of what makes it such a quagmire is the fact that today’s America continually blurs the line between Self and Other. I think a lot of the reactionary politics we see are rooted in a deep set anxiety regarding the ever-shifting, continuously fluid American identity.

    The “ideal” America is inaccessible to those that have been sold the dream– not just those coming to the states for the first time and placing roots, but also those whose families have worked tirelessly for centuries to see no growth. It’s not just that America is becoming less racially and ethnically homogenous over time, but also that the wealth gap continues to skyrocket. I think these forces work together to create our incredibly tense contemporary political climate.

    All across the country exist groups of people that have been made to believe that their lives should contain more or contain different. Or that life in this country should be prosperous, equitable, and constantly rewarding. Inherent to this “should” is a sense of entitlement– that is to say that we as Americans are guilty of believing we deserve the best at all times. Our belief that we deserve the best is marred by how deeply segregated we’ve always been, and the truth is that groups of people will do whatever it takes to ensure that their kin, and their kin alone can reap the manifold benefits this country has to offer. Sometimes this belief manifests communally, sometimes it manifests individually. I personally take less umbrage when it’s done for survival, given that survival is attached to genuine need.

    Beyond the realm of individual psychologies is some cross-cultural neuroses, some sort of collective unconscious that requires extensive (Freudian? or Jungian?) prodding. The last 18 years of this country’s history have been especially turbulent, and as a country, we’re learning to not only handle constant uncertainty, but also to accept the consequences of our actions domestically and abroad.

    There are ways we can do that theoretically. From a behaviorist perspective, there would need to be some incentive to coexist, likely a reward tied to primary and secondary needs. There would also need to be tangible consequences from continuing to exist so separately from one another. From a humanist perspective, we would have to evaluate not just our personal “shoulds” but also the shoulds we have on a larger scale. We would have to adjust our expectations of America. From a cognitive perspective, we would have to address the irrational belief that one group’s success has to come at the other’s expense. That one might be the hardest to overcome.

    The way forward can involve theory, but I don’t think the response will necessarily be intellectual. I think at the end of the day, progress will be more visceral and emotional. I guess it’s up to us as Americans to make sure that we transform our feelings into sustainable change.

  21. Being in this country for more than five (5) years, I’m an immigrant came from the first Black Country independent, Haiti. I strongly believe every immigrant that came in this country has a positive reason behind it. And this positive reason is to have a decent live and be happy. Yes America is a land of opportunity and this is what make this is land what it is today “the greatest country in the world” by allowing people who came from everywhere specially those that came from poor countries. They have great potentially and they are very smart, and they always dream to have better education, a better life but never have the opportunity to live their dreams.

    “By helping others you helping yourself” For instance, Haiti has been devastated by a missive in 2010, caused an estimated 300,000 deaths, displaced more than a million people, and damaged nearly half of all structures. The united state of America was recuing thousands people. And giving them a temporary status that allows them to work and help their families left behind. A lot these immigrants during those eight years are become valuable member of the society by going to school, earning a diploma and better their self.

    I think immigrants are the best workers and they contribute a lot in this country. We, immigrant, we have a pass and a history in this country. We all human, and we all an objective is to have a better live and be happy. Instead of fighting and humiliating each other over meaningless thing, lets support one another. by giving one immigrant the opportunity you gave ten more people in his country the opportunity to live better. Knowing someone is happy just because what you have done for him, that’s make us feel good. It does not matter what you have gotten back.

  22. I came to this country when I was 10 years old as a vulnerable child. I cannot imagine entering this country during this time period. I understand both sides of the immigration situation but I don’t know how I should truly feel. My family and I are grateful to be here and I am doing things I would have never accomplished in my homeland. I do understand why immigrant policies should be tighter. Some people abuse this country in more ways than one.

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