Immigration in the United States is a hotly debated issue right now and is slated to be a crucial point in the upcoming midterm elections, as the WPI fellows have witnessed on our American tour. We need to do something, say both the left and the right of various shades.

However, it doesn’t seem likely that any coherent policy is going to emerge soon, although both sides of the debate have shared sensible proposals.

Matt Mackowiak, a conservative political strategist in Austin, Texas, said the problem is the primaries system in the United States encourages extremism in both parties, meaning a politician campaigning on a moderate platform, whether right- or left-leaning, is less likely to advance to a position of real influence.

Mackowiak’s own position on immigration is an example of less extreme, pragmatic rightwing policy: mass deportation of undocumented immigrants is too much, for both logistical and humanitarian reasons, but so is mass amnesty. His view is law-abiding migrants and those who came to the United States as minors should be pardoned for the crime of crossing the border illegally, and given some sort of legal status, with a pathway to full citizenship, he said, adding that the law must be enforced and borders must be protected.

Other anti-immigration advocates echo this sentiment, including the more vocal ones, such as Larry Korkmas, the president of Texans For Immigration Reduction & Enforcement (TFIRE), who also was in our WPI briefing.

But what does “enforcing the law” actually mean?

It’s a vague statement that’s hard to debate. It’s also contradictory if you take into account the fact that extreme conservative views (and extreme liberal ones) tend to come in a package. For example, if someone is vehemently anti-immigration in the United States, they also tend to favor small governments — both Mackowiak and Korkmas agreed this is indeed the case.

So, how does one enforce the law in case of immigration when U.S. government agencies dealing with it are clearly overwhelmed with the pressure? Should more public officials and law enforcement officers be hired? But won’t that make the government bigger, which is one of the pet peeves of the Republican party?

My question about this paradox appeared to be uncomfortable to Mackowiak and Korkmas, as both quickly changed the subject.

But the real answer to this, as it turns out, is quite sinister.

In Austin, we also met Claudia Munoz, projects director at Grassroots Leadership, a non-governmental organization dealing with immigrants’ rights. Munoz herself is an undocumented migrant from Mexico who fled cartel violence in her hometown of Monterrey at the age of 16. She alleged there is a multitude of abuses happening in private detention centers for illegals, which tend to be prisons for profits with little public oversight.

Is this how one marries the “enforce the law” mantra with small governments, i.e. outsource the government’s functions to private corporations?

Another topic that U.S. anti-immigration advocates tend to avoid is the humanitarian responsibility of the United States to people fleeing wars, conflicts, poverty and crises, which are the direct result of U.S. foreign policy. Among the top countries of origin for U.S.-bound migrants are El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, three Central American countries where the United States for decades deposed democratic governments, installed rightwing military dictatorships and trained paramilitary death squads to fight Communist guerillas — wiping out entire communities in the process. All of this happened within a generation or two, and as such, the U.S. government needs to take at least some responsibility for the horrors millions of Latin Americans are fleeing.

And if the debate between the two Texans running for the U.S. Senate – Beto O’Rourke versus incumbent Ted Cruz – is any indication, little hope exists that the current immigration issue in the United States can be resolved through policy.

We heard the same arguments, word for word, that we’ve been hearing everywhere we’ve traveled in the United States. The only thing that is clear – is both sides aren’t actually debating, but preaching to the choir of supporters. That’s not how crises get resolved.