Malcolm Gladwell: Strict Enforcement Encourages Illegal Immigration

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Mexican workers harvest and pack romaine lettuce in a field near Yuma, AZ on November 23, 2012. The American Farm Bureau estimates that its entire agricultural workforce will be comprised of foreign guest workers in the future. Photo by Peter Haden.

In his latest podcast, Malcolm Gladwell uses his platform to make an important point about the latest immigration crackdown that has the Trump administration separating immigration children from their parents as a means of deterring illegal immigration. This week, both Sessions and Huckabee Sanders have been trying to use passages from the Bible to justify this cruel policy. It’s the law, they argue. And it enforcing the law is the will of God–ignoring the fact that God didn’t write these laws and that changing them is within the power of our lawmakers.

Gladwell is best known for his non-fiction books, such as The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, which apply research from the social sciences to provide new insights into crime enforcement, business, and sports. More recently he has created a podcast called Revisionist History which he describes as “journey through the overlooked and the misunderstood”.

Gladwell is not known for taking overt political positions in his work. He has done podcast episodes on McDonald’s french fries and the Toyota sticky accelerator issue and the granny-style free throw in basketball. However, this season’s episodes of his podcast have taken a more political tone, including the latest must-listen episode released this week.

In podcast titled General Chapman’s Last Stand, Gladwell explains just how we got to this point in American history, where a large part of the population (mostly called Trump supporters) believe there is a serious immigration issue along the southern border and that strict (or biblical) enforcement is the only solution. Not only does Gladwell tells us how got we got to a policy of separating immigrant families, he also illustrates the solution to the “problem” created the problem in the first place. Everyone on both sides of the debate should listen to this podcast. It puts all the recent developments in this debate into sharp focus.

Though you can’t tell from the title, the episode is about illegal Mexican immigration into the US. The immigration of Mexicans into the US has been extensively studied through a Princeton project called the Mexican Migration Project. The data from this project shows how the pattern has changed from “circular migration”, where the migrants come to the US to find work, but ultimately go back to Mexico because that is where their family roots are. Because of circular migration, the net immigration into the US was low.

This migration pattern changed, Gladwell argues, because of Commandant Leonard Chapman, retired from the Marines Corp, who made his mission to enforce the border regulations. Because crossing the border became so difficult, circular migration stopped. If you managed to cross the border, you didn’t return to your family. You couldn’t be sure you would be able to cross the border again, so you stayed and send for your family to join you. You became a permanent illegal immigrant, instead of a temporary one. And your children became today’s dreamers.

Chapman also made it his mission to convince us that we had an immigration problem. Before he became head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1972, very few Americans thought we had an immigration issue. By the time he retired in 1977, the majority believed that immigration was a problem. Chapman was so good at his job, that he convinced us that good walls make good neighbors. But the data suggestions otherwise, at least when it comes to illegal immigration from Mexico, which is what Malcolm’s Gladwell’s latest podcast eloquently points out.

Since I’ve listened to the podcast, I have a whole new perspective on the latest immigration debate. The attempts by the Trump administration to stop illegal immigration across our southern border, whether it’s by ripping immigrant children from their mothers, or spending a ridiculous amount of money on a border wall, will not work. In fact, they will have the opposite effect. Migrant workers will still find a way to cross the border to do the jobs Americans don’t want to do. The more difficult and risky we made that border crossing, the less likely those migrant workers will return home when their work is done. And net illegal immigration goes up, not down.

You really should listen to the podcast. You can listen to the complete version right here:

Or you can download it here.

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3 Comments on "Malcolm Gladwell: Strict Enforcement Encourages Illegal Immigration"

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Internet boy

I thought this was a really good summary. I plagiarized you about it but couldn’t link here because I was arguing with a Trumper, and the URL would have cost me the argument.