Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on immigration, and on academic freedom

The Aspen Security Forum hosted a number of luminaries including one of America’s greatest, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.  She was interviewed by Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, on the topic ofDemocracy Under Siege: The Rise of Extreme Nationalism.”  In this post I want to highlight her remarks on immigration and on academic freedom.

Although she left government in 2001, Secretary Albright’s career is a storied one.  Besides being the first woman to serve as Secretary of State, Secretary Albright served in a several other key government positions.  Today she has a number of business interests, but is also a Professor of the Practice at Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (not to mention being an unabashed stalwart of the Democratic Party).

I didn’t agree with all of Secretary Albright’s remarks (some of which were more partisan than I think is helpful) but they were clearly and energetically delivered.  She did include her own wonderful and uplifting story of being an immigrant who went on to such obvious success.  Among other things she observed:

“Since arriving in America 71 years ago, I have developed a deep love for this country [and] that devotion is typical of the millions of other immigrants and refugees who have enriched our land and added new sources of energy and strength to it.”

Accordingly, I asked Secretary Albright for her recommendations as to what immigration policy the U.S. should embrace.  Here’s a lightly edited version of the relevant part of the transcript found here about my question and the Secretary’s answer.  Keep in mind that the “authoritative record of Aspen Institute programming is the video” which is found here):

Dunlap: Madam Secretary, thank you very much. Charlie Dunlap from Duke Law School.  Last December, the Gallup poll reported that 158 million people want to move to the United States, including 37 million from Latin America [the number is actually 42 million, see here]. What policy should we have in sorting this out? I’d like to hear your views on that.

Secretary Albright:  First of all, I’ve obviously been interested in immigration policy for a long time.  The United States has had a mixed record, and I do think what we need is a comprehensive immigration policy.

I really think that’s a very important part, [and] I think it is important for people to be able to come in legally.  I also do think we need to understand that most people in the world would prefer to live in the country where they were born, which also means that there needs to be some way that we are helpful to in terms of creating a situation there where they want to live in their own economy. That is definitely true for instance, of the northern triangle [see here] where people cannot live a decent life, and we are cutting our foreign aid programs. And so I think we need to look at things in a much larger comprehensive way.

We cannot do the kinds of things however that are going on that are inhuman in terms of separating people – [doing so is] acting totally unAmerican.  And I just have to tell you, I was on Amtrak not long ago during spring vacation. And what was interesting, the conductor very quietly says, we’re just coming in to Baltimore, and this is spring vacation. And there are a lot of families getting on. And I would appreciate those of you that are traveling alone to sit together because we don’t want to separate families. And I thought it was just a stunning example of what Americans are really like and what we need to do is understand we do need a policy, but we also need to be, have a humane way of dealing with people, not put them in cages.

I agree with Secretary Albright’s views about the importance of trying to address the underlying causes that are driving people to emigrate where, all things being equal, they would rather stay in their home countries.  But that long-term solution doesn’t address the current issue as to how to fairly deal with the 158 million who want to come here now.  Everyone – including President Trump – wants, as Secretary Albright put it, “a comprehensive immigration policy,” but the devil is in the details, and I would have liked to have heard more of them from her.

Much more satisfying was her answer to a question from another attendee who asked how universities and think tanks should approach the study of extremism.  Specifically, she noted Secretary Albright’s long academic career, and asked “how we [can] incorporate the same tools we’ve established as an intellectual community for studying groups like ISIS to study in groups like the Aryan Brotherhood or the KKK or the rise of neo-nazis in America.”  Secretary Albright responded:

“Well, I think one of the issues is how universities are organized, whether they have public policy programs, how they operate, are they willing to take that kind of role? I have to say I do teach, it is not simple these days, in terms of safe zones and a variety of things of what you can say and can’t say.

I do think we need to make very clear that academic freedom is one of the basic aspects of American life, and I think we should be looking at what are the causes of the various problems that we have, but be willing to have decent, respectful discussion of those issues and especially in academic circles.” (Emphasis added.)

Wise words indeed!

Still, as we like to say on Lawfire®, gather the facts, consider the views, and decide for yourself!


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