Rebalancing the Campus Immigration Narrative

David Acevedo

CounterCurrent: Week of 1/10


No human being is illegal.” 

If you’ve been on a college campus in the last five years, chances are you’ve heard this phrase or some variant of it at least a few times. Those who take issue with the terms “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien” have instead chosen to use “undocumented immigrant,” or even “undocumented American,” to describe those who enter and remain in the country illegally. But these shifts in language are not mere semantic nitpicking—they point to a broader movement in American higher education toward a complete and unquestioning affirmation of unrestricted immigration to the United States, lawful or otherwise.

Even the fundamental concept of nationhood is being challenged, namely that of a definable geographical area in which lives a countable number of citizens. More and more we hear arguments for “open borders”—that is, no real borders—and “global citizens”—that is, no real citizens. Border closures of any kind, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, are labeled as racist and xenophobic, and anyone who even suggests that immigration restrictions are beneficial will likely attract the same labels. In other words, there’s one right answer on immigration in American higher ed, and if you disagree, fall in line or pay the price.

How did we get here? How did immigration policy become a sacred cow of higher education to be questioned by no one? How might we move toward reasoned debate once again?

In the National Association of Scholars’ newest report, Rebalancing the Narrative: Higher Education, Border Security, and Immigration, George R. La Noue explores these very questions, discussing the various dimensions of immigration policy in America today and suggesting topics for on-campus debate. La Noue, Research Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, gives students and professors the tools to have informed discussions about the benefits and detriments of American immigration policy at a time where robust discourse on the subject is desperately needed. As he writes,

Long-term immigration issues will not go away, no matter which party is in power. Higher education should help America to make these decisions with the necessary information and perspectives by sponsoring forums and debates encompassing the full range of views on these subjects. Higher education does not serve its students or our country well by silencing or avoiding debate on immigration and border control policy.

With a new presidential administration incoming and a flipped senate confirmed, views on immigration policy in our government will likely closely resemble those of the higher education establishment. This means that, especially now, the debate must resume. Immigration policy is an immensely complicated topic, both in theory and in practice, and must be discussed and refined by our best and brightest minds, many of whom are found in the academy. Contrary to what many might claim, there is not one right answer. To act as if there is will continue to stunt on-campus debate and will make for short-sighted policy down the road.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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