Cognitive Dissonance and Immigration

Cognitive dissonance is the term psychologists use to describe the mental debility that occurs when a person simultaneously holds two contradictory beliefs. Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s efforts to secure our borders and enforce immigration law seem to have generated a significant amount of cognitive dissonance, particularly among open borders advocates and the media.  Here’s a (by no means exhaustive) list of some of the mass migration arguments that rest on internal contradictions:

It’s not fair to uproot illegal alien children and send them to a country they know nothing about: Then, by definition, the parents of these illegal alien children were patently unfair when they first brought their kids to the United States, a country that they knew nothing about.  None of the proponents of this argument ever seem able to explain why enforcing immigration law creates a moral and ethical dilemma but violating it doesn’t.

You’re separating families: Every day in the United States, our courts send people with families to prison because they broke the law. Those people are separated from their families, sometimes for life. Yet no one ever advances the argument that we shouldn’t jail burglars, fraudsters or other law-breakers because they’ll be separated from their kin. It is a generally accepted principle that decisions to violate the law carry consequences. How is immigration law any different? It is illogical to argue that when immigrants consciously decide to separate their families in order to come to the United States, that’s okay; but that when the United States enforces immigration laws, the separation of families is immoral.  (It is also illogical to argue that the mere existence of innocent family members erases the illegal alien’s violation. No one gets a pass on drunk driving simply because the car was full of sober passengers.)

So many illegal aliens have been here so long they have deep roots, it wouldn’t be right to send them away: In no other area of the law does anyone argue that evading the police and continuously violating the law is a mitigating circumstance.  In fact, it’s usually considered an aggravating factor that results in a stiffer sentence. Yet open borders advocates consistently argue that the longer illegal aliens violate the law, the more lenient we should be with them. That’s a losing argument. As every parent and elementary school teacher knows, rewarding bad behavior simply leads to more bad behavior.

Sure, illegal aliens broke immigration laws, but they’re obeying all of the other laws: Typically, this is true of most people who perpetrate low-level crimes. But no one claims we shouldn’t punish tax evaders because they’re not murderers. It is what illegal aliens have done – violating the Immigration and Nationality Act – that should concern us, not what they didn’t do.

The bulk of the American people experience no cognitive dissonance when it comes to immigration. They understand that laws are enacted to protect public safety and national security. Therefore, engaging in mental gymnastics to avoid holding violators accountable is not in their best interests. The immigration enforcement challenge for the Trump administration will be to keep a clear head and not succumb to the defective thinking advanced by open borders advocates and their media cronies.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar

    Isn’t it dangerous to bring up cognitive dissonance when republican policy is basically exploiting the brain glitch? There is a very good reason that illegal immigrants breaking immigration law does not bother me. The laws are unjust. Our government has chosen to not address an issue for so long that it’s created a crisis. And yes that means that we, The American People, must take responsibility for allowing our government to suck at their job.

  2. avatar

    Separating families. It’s not like we prevent them from taking family members with them. If my employer transferred me to Virginia or New York, I would move myself and my family there, not sue my employer.

  3. avatar

    You forgot “immigrants commit less crimes”, the America haters have banished the word “illegal” from their brains.

  4. avatar

    It appears this article’s essence’s critical thinking is a recursive cognitive dissonance … interesting…..

  5. avatar

    Like Nancy Pelosi calling illegal aliens in sanctuary cities “law-abiding citizens”. Or the “dual citizen” from the “Border Angels” group saying that if “undocumented people” commit a crime they should be deported. Wait, isn’t breaking our immigration laws a crime?

    • avatar

      82% of Americans

      Simply hate Sanctuary Cities….recent polling too.

      Where’s the controversy in shutting them down? Lock up the Sanctuary City Mayors and Sanctuary State Governors for allowing IAs to kill, steal and extort drugs/sex in America….Am,American citizen victims should also receive HUGE litigation relief from indicted Sanctuary Politicians [bankrupt ’em too]!

  6. avatar

    If you want a classic example of the schizophrenia of liberalism, it’s their insistence that Islam must be respected, indeed it must be cherished as if it were a rare gift to the western countries. But it’s racist to point out that Islam would have women walking around covered from head to toe, having a legally inferior position to males in the sharia system, and that leaving Islam, whether for another religion, or to just not practice a religion, would get you executed in most Islamic countries. The too precious smugness of SNL and Hollywood is directed at the rubes in middle America who refuse to adopt their see no evil view of Islam.

    And every time someone suggests that maybe we should tighten up voting standards, that brings the usual charges of trying to intimidate minorities. It’s ironic that Trump has addressed voter fraud, and the hometown paper of the Winter White House, The Palm Beach Post, had an article titled “Why 30% of Florida Voting Is Ripe For Fraud”, concerning mail in ballots in 2 heavily Haitian immigrant districts. They wrote:

    “Spurred by unusually high vote-by-mail turnouts in south county neighborhoods in both the March and August elections in 2016, Palm Beach Post reporters went door to door and talked to dozens of voters to find out why. Many residents could not say who they voted for. They said they were directed how to vote by candidates and campaign workers, who casually came into their homes and were fixtures in their neighborhoods during the campaign.”

    Neither candidates or workers are supposed to do anything more than accept already completed ballots. These types of things are happening all over this country and it’s a civil rights violation of the voters who freely and legally cast a ballot and have it cancelled by fraud. Last year St.Louis had a primary election overturned by a judge and the
    “loser” the first time won the second.

  7. avatar

    Apathy and Fear Have Something to Do With Open Border Brainwashing Too

    We figure the Shadow Government gets what it wants anyway, so why try to fight them….and if you speak up you may lose your job.