Politics of Poverty

Congress has let partisanship get in the way of productivity

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When Ella Stone got to Washington, DC, she looked forward to working with people and institutions to devise solutions to the world's problems. Instead, she encountered gridlock, name-calling, and frustration. Photo: Wilmer Olano on Unsplash

It’s clearer now more than ever that America is exhausted by standstill politics; and that the gridlock in DC is preventing us from moving forward to solutions to fundamental problems. Just one example: our inability to find a path toward common sense immigration policies that benefit everyone.

I came to Washington DC to dive headfirst into working with institutions that offer solutions to the world’s vast problems. It didn’t take long to find out how broken many of our institutions have become.

My very first time on Capitol Hill, I attended a House Oversight and Accountability hearing, slated to address the urgent situation at our Southern border. What I encountered was a six-hour hearing of name-calling, Twitter storms, and memes.

Throughout American history, public officials have come to bipartisan solutions—as early as 1787, when A Great Compromise formed our bicameral Congress, and as recently as 2021 with the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. What’s changed?

Politics previously welcomed debate based on testimony, data, and concrete measures of evidence curated by a wide range of perspectives. Now, information is intercepted every second of every day, shared mindlessly via social media where character limits restrict context. Algorithms promote certain narratives over others based on pre-existing biases so that users see what they already believe.

In a world where it’s more convenient to tag someone in a tweet than sit down and have a conversation, officials often let online discourse escalate to levels outside of professional decorum. As a result, focus in the hearing room is more allocated to the divisive rhetoric perpetuated on these platforms, instead of using valuable time to solve the countless problems that plague global society.

It’s disheartening as an aspiring changemaker to find leaders dealing more in the currency of optics and soundbites than policy solutions.

We’ve let party lines and lack of humility get in the way of productive work

A pertinent example is addressing the situation at our Southern border. We have tangible data suggesting we need both to overhaul domestic immigration systems, and create foreign policy that addresses the root causes of migration. While it’s unreasonable to suggest that domestic and foreign policy implications have no overlap, it’s also unreasonable to suggest both issues can be addressed as one situation entirely without nuance.

The US has a moral responsibility to prioritize rights-affirming action on both fronts, while ensuring changes to these systems do not come at the expense of vulnerable populations.

It is possible to improve the situation at the border and offer improved conditions and processes to migrants. In fact, enhancing protections, pathways, and due process for migrants is a solution to the challenges at the border.

Beyond these domestic measures, addressing the root causes of migration would substantially improve the experience of both migrants and immigration agencies. Here at Oxfam, we recognize that localized humanitarian aid offers people the stability they need to thrive in the countries where they reside, whether through food security, holding governments accountable, or creating opportunities for economic prosperity.

Oxfam recently published a report with the Tahirih Justice Center explaining how these root causes, in tandem with immigration policies that seek to deter and punish migrants, have exacerbated instances of gender-based violence at the border-especially impacting women and girls, and Black and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Additionally, US immigration agencies have expressed explicitly that the key to a functional immigration and asylum system is increased funding to ensure a safer and more orderly process, not deterrence-based policies at the border.

Last month, US Border Patrol (USBP) Chiefs Gloria Chavez and John Modlin testified before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee citing two critical components in addressing the everchanging situations at the border. They accredited their flexibility to increased investments into processing, along with the steadfast commitment of USBP officers to their work.

When we utilize the combined expertise of organizations and agencies on the ground, instead of leaning into unfounded rhetoric, we can tackle pressing policy challenges. We can protect basic human rights and liberties that people of all beliefs cite as true American values, like the right to a life free from persecution and violence.

When we get too caught up in perceived knowledge, ignore experiences that don’t align with our own, and hold too much pride to admit when we’re wrong, we throw away our ability to collaborate and make progress. In doing so, these leaders within institutions built to serve the public throw away their ability to move legislation, and therefore, their credibility as changemakers.

By now, you’re probably asking—what can we do to stop this?

Vote for officials who prioritize progress over politics. Vote for officials who don’t need to take up all the air in a room, but rather make space for diverse voices. Vote for officials who aren’t afraid to hold views that divert from established party norms-outside-the-box thinkers and innovators.

The people we put in office have the power to push change. Who will you choose?

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