The Daily Escape:
Fall at Mount Assiniboine, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, BC, Canada – photo by Daniel Kodan
Happy Halloween! The spooky caravan of migrants heading northward to the US-Mexico border has sparked much debate. We’ve always heard that the US is “a nation of immigrants,” and that we’re a better country because of migrants who came here to chase the American Dream. But now, the country is divided about letting immigrants into the country.
On October 18th, the Kaiser Family Foundation published a survey that focused on the most important issues to voters. They found a significant difference between the parties on immigration:
Republicans rated immigration as their most important issue at 25% vs. 9% for Democrats, and Independents ranked it third at 15%. The sample included 396 Democrats, 309 Republicans and 399 Independents for a total of 91.8% of the overall respondents.
The differences were more pronounced in battleground states. Republicans in battleground states ranked immigration highest at 29% while Democrats rated it at 16% and fourth overall:
We say we are a nation of immigrants, but what that means is no longer clear. Trump and many Republicans running this fall have made the caravan seem like a powerful enemy army that we are at war with, albeit one that is unarmed, without funds and leaderless.
The Kaiser survey shows that this is working with Republicans in battleground districts/states. Whether it will prove helpful across the country will be determined on November 6th.
This anti-immigrant viewpoint has been with us for a very long time. After the Civil War, Congress realized that Blacks were going to be able to obtain citizenship just by being here, and then having children who would become citizens by birth. That ended when the 14th Amendment legitimized those children.
In the late 19th Century, there was another strong push to restrict immigration in order to maintain the whiteness of the country. It started with the restrictions against the Chinese and Japanese. Then it was extended even to those Europeans who were not considered to be white enough. People like the Irish, the Italians, the Greeks, the Poles, had their immigration quotas drastically cut back from 1917 through the 1920s.
We have always expressed our anti-immigrant bias explicitly in racial terms, even making up races, like the Irish and Poles. And today, it’s the Mexicans and Central Americans.
Even the term “illegal alien”, or “illegal immigrant” that we apply to those crossing the southern border has almost replaced race. It’s no longer legitimate to openly discriminate on the basis of race, but we’ve allowed one political Party to replace race with legal status.
So now it is legitimate again to discriminate against people. They are illegals, not a racial category, like they were in the 1800’s and 1900’s.
Today’s Republicans play to our fears: These less-than-worthy illegals want in, so that they can take a shot at the American Dream. If they get in, they may take jobs away from poorly educated, low skilled Americans. Therefore, we must be vigilant, and insure we protect our economy and the citizens who are already here.
There is some truth to that view.
America’s economy is predominantly service-based, and immigrants are over-represented in low skill, low-paying service occupations. They are in elder care, food services, in fact, they are hugely involved in the farming, harvesting and processing of most of our food as well.
These low-end jobs are going to grow, and it is highly questionable if low-skilled Americans will be lining up to take them.
And nobody’s talking about population growth as a reason to implement more restrictive immigration policies. By 2050, the US is projected to have 400 million people. Now it’s about 320 million. That’s a 25% increase in 32 years.
We need to ask: where will the jobs come from for all these people?
The division needs to stop. It’s a toxic stew of nativist, xenophobic ideas that must be sent back underground, and we have to end the rhetoric about “birthright citizenship” once and for all.
Let’s start by granting the DACA people citizenship. Second, those who came into our country illegally, and have not committed serious criminal offenses, should be offered a rigorous path to citizenship, one that does not give them an advantage over those who have complied with the law and are waiting their turn. Third, employers who have knowingly hired and exploited undocumented immigrants should be prosecuted, and not simply fined.
Fourth, we need clearer immigration rules, and better methods of processing of asylum requests. And we need more border security.
And if Trump’s wall is included, (as repugnant as that may seem), so be it.