The parable of the starfish tells the story of a young boy throwing starfish back into the ocean.
If they remain beached after washing ashore, they will die.
When a passerby tells the boy that he can’t really make a difference because there’s too many to help, the boy replies, “It makes a difference to this one!”
Then, he throws the next starfish in the ocean.
Think of the people who helped you, who made a difference in your life. Imagine if they had decided not to help you because there were too many people in need. “What an absurd reason to not help,” you might think.
My favorite John Wesley quote is: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
Applied to politics, we have Otto von Bismarck’s insight: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”
It seems to me that we should have these insights in mind when approaching immigration reform.
How can we help the most people?
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We have to be willing to take bread and butter over pie in the sky.
President Biden has endorsed a very ambitious proposal to legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants in an eight-year period.
This is a noble and good bill, but I doubt it has much chance of passing.
It needs 10 Republican votes to pass the Senate, and there is very little in terms of immigration enforcement that Republicans can take and feel as though their concerns have been addressed.
In the Senate, Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) have reintroduced the Dream Act for children brought here by their parents.
The Dream Act is a wonderful bill and should be passed as soon as possible, but immigrant advocates understandably would like to achieve more than that. Graham said that he just doesn’t believe more comprehensive reform is feasible.
It seems to me that a big solution is possible, but only if it involves real compromise by each side.
Democrats have to be willing to give a little on border enforcement if they want to get support for a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented currently residing in the United States.
Likewise, Republicans must soften a bit on the undocumented to garner support for border control provisions.
So, here’s the deal that could pass: a wall for the undocumented.
Democrats could fund the wall that President Trump and the GOP wanted, in exchange for a full path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented. Each side concedes the whole package to the other.
The idea of a wall is certainly offensive – an ugly, symbolic monument to racism. Sticks and stones. Symbolism matters, but not as much as helping millions of people.
For Republicans, the wall represents a serious effort at border security, which is their price for helping the undocumented.
Democrats have been unable to persuade moderate Republicans that they are serious about border security. Perhaps this would do it.
A very liberal student of mine said she would support this deal because there are already numerous border security measures in place; the wall is largely symbolic.
The wall is estimated to cost $11 billion. We can help 11 million people for $11 billion dollars. That’s $1,000 per person.
What immigrant advocates achieve with this trade-off would be real. Eleven million souls would never again have to worry about the knock at the door in the middle of the night that would tear their lives and families apart.
As with saving starfish, it doesn’t help all who suffer, but it helps 11 million people. That’s real reform that comes with a price: the price of the wall.
There would be one more significant benefit to such a deal.
When President Obama began work on his health care bill, he stated, “At stake is not just our ability to solve this problem but our ability to solve any problem.”
Twelve years later, we can add the question of whether the parties can work together, unite and compromise enough to overcome partisan animosity and gridlock to solve real problems.
My daughter recently defined a good compromise as an agreement where both sides feel like they lost.
This potential agreement might feel like that in certain ways.
But it might convince some Republicans that the other party is serious about working with them on issues of concern, and it would absolutely help 11 million people.
A wall for citizenship: it’s a tough, but important, compromise that could help pave the way for compromise on other issues and make headway towards the unity that our country so desperately needs.
McKenzie is a Methodist in Calhoun, Georgia, who teaches high school and holds a doctorate in political theory from the University of Florida.