The (Aristotelian) Rhetoric of Immigration Reform
3 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2013 Last revised: 30 Jun 2013
Date Written: June 24, 2013
While supporters of the DREAM Act and CIR offer powerful moral and policy arguments for providing a pathway to citizenship to many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, opponents continue to make inroads by offering up the strongest rhetorical arguments. These rhetorical arguments, while simplistic, xenophobic and deeply-flawed, are winning traction with the public, in Congress, and even in the lower courts. If Aristotle’s Rhetoric, written over two millennia ago, is about the art of persuasion, Kris Kobach, the mastermind behind Arizona’s anti-immigrant S.B. 1070 and the lawyer for the immigration officers challenging DACA’s constitutionality, is a master rhetorician. A skilled rhetorician knows that he or she cannot persuade everyone, but effectively uses the rhetorical tools of ethos, pathos and logos to achieve the desired goal. Ethos turns on the credibility of the speaker, who must convince the audience that he is knowledgeable, virtuous and of good will. Pathos relies on the speaker understanding the emotional state of the audience; Aristotle noted that emotions can stir people and cause them to change their minds. Logos emphasizes the internal logic of an argument. Whether he is representing ICE plaintiffs in Court, appearing on Fox News, or testifying before Congress, Kris Kobach always keeps his sights on what is persuasive. The rhetoric of immigration reform requires, however, that advocates of reform not cede the public sphere of rhetorical debate. Rather, they must be able not only to identify negative rhetoric but to break it down: to show when it is ugly and mean-spirited, to demonstrate how it manipulates people’s emotions and triggers xenophobic responses, and to prove that it is based on false premises. At the same time, they must become adept at using the Aristotelian tools of ethos, pathos, and logos to set a better course, to demonstrate, for example, how DACA and the DREAM Act reflect a commitment to justice and fairness on behalf of the young women and men who were brought here as children, who consider themselves Americans, and who, until now, have been denied legal status based solely on the accident of their birth.
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