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Guest opinion

Hoover: More creative thinking needed in reforming immigration system

Civil society must begin a national discourse on immigration reform and carry through with it. Leaving the conversations to politicians and law enforcement is not getting the job done. All actors and stakeholders must prepare for the discourse, meet face-to-face, speak truth, clarify, and take actions to tone down the noise on the border which is not out of control.

Neither open borders nor closed borders are the answer. Enforcement vs. human rights is the wrong way to approach reform and not a good way for border reporting to continue.

Tear-gassing children is not required for national security and rushing walls is not a human right. Presidents have called the American people to war, to sacrifice, to go to the moon. One could call us to respect both law and human rights. The public is quite capable of housing and helping migrants through difficult times. The number of persons receiving refugee status is the lowest in decades. We have capacity. We can be secure and respectful.

The driver of migration is fear. Asylum is the antidote. Human rights do not exist for well-intentioned people to feel good. They are real. Asylum law was created to protect the vulnerable. Border enforcement has got to be more than a way to oppress poor people. There are legitimate national security questions to be addressed, but they are not addressed by shooting across the international boundaries. The enforcement mindset must be changed to meet real national interests.

Only politics can solve the border problem. However, a national discourse that informs politics is needed to focus concerns. Very few politicians have a clue what the borderlands are about. Civil society is the enabling and mediating institutional voice that is needed. Governors and Members of Congress can send their staffers to learn about what the concerns really are. Publishers, universities, congregations, business groups, think tanks, activists, foundations, human rights groups and other interested partners need to initiate this discourse now.

A national discourse requires preparation. The U.S. can walk and chew gum, protect interests and provide legal means for people to find security. The U.S. can discern what is true and what is acceptable. The U.S. can handle competing visions of what is best and muddle through. We always do. The U.S. can reform laws and implement new policies that reflect the values of this nation.

A national discourse begins with local expression but must end on the floors of the House and Senate. Do people in Michigan know the strength of Arizona's trading relationship with Mexico? Do we want white nationalist militias patrolling our streets and borders? Do we want migrants shutting down ports of entry? Are there legitimate health concerns? Can we organize the migration? Can we document and inspect people through ports of entry where they can use public transportation and not trash our deserts?

Apprehensions are down. The numbers of undocumented persons are declining steadily. Persons without papers can be vetted and given papers instead of being hunted down when they leave Sanctuary churches. Persons wanting to participate in our economy can be checked, certified, and given incentives, even economic incentives, to comply with visas.

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The lack of imagination of how to deal with the migration is stunning. Civil society has always been a niche in American society for creative thinking. And, with a little effort, the national discourse could begin right here in Arizona.

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Robin Hoover marks the 15th anniversary of the deployment of one of two blue barrels containing water, as part of an effort by Humane Borders to halt the number of deaths in southwestern Pima County, in 2016. The beat-up blue plastic water barrel became part of an exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt design museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution.

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