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Rants, Raves…and Reason: Thinking about Immigration Online

By Donna R. Gabaccia, Rudolph J. Vecoli Professor of Immigration History and Director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota

I regularly surf a worldwide web awash in information about immigration. Yet almost every day a student or a journalist tells me “I can’t find good information.?

What’s going on here?

The controversies that swirl around Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, remind us that (for better or worse) the web puts specialists and amateurs on equal footing. Here, I’ll distinguish three kinds of webpages—blogs, advocacy pages, and scholarly sites. The blogs deliver passionate opinions, often in “just-folks? style, replete with typos and amusing screen names. The advocacy pages offer a more reasoned voice while trying to provide answers: they’ll provide you with the information supporting whatever answer they advocate. The scholarly sites rarely offer answers; typically, too, they offer more information than the average student, journalist, or potential voter wants to digest.

Since I’m an academic and a specialist, I obviously encourage people seeking information to take the time to think about this complicated issue and to recognize that more information typically means no easy answers. This week, at least, I’d recommend going first to the Migration Policy Institute’s Immigration Information Resource http://www.migrationinformation.org/
and then to the Social Science Research Council’s forum on “Border Battles?: http://borderbattles.ssrc.org/ Both try to situate the American debates in a broader context.

By all means, explore the fascinating world of the bloggers if you want to see the passion that immigration generates. (But prepared to invest some time in this exercise, too: Googling “Immigration blog? will give you 360,000 options.) By all means, too, visit websites that advocate. Most readers will recognize advocacy as the main purpose of pages like liberals.com or Peter Brimelow’s VDare webpage (where the current lead story blames Mexican immigrants for rising cruelty to animals). A more complicated case is the Center for Immigration Studies which advocates a “low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants.? Advocacy sites provide much information; almost all their interpretations of that information can be, and are, disputed.

Here’s the important point: rant, raves and easy answers are unlikely to resolve the current debates about immigration. If there were easy answers, wouldn’t they have been found and implemented long ago? What I advocate is this: keep on looking and keep on thinking!