History demonstrates that immigrants—whether they came to America in shackles, indentured, or free—built our country. So why is there so much angst around immigration?
By the volume and apparent popularity of hateful speech among presidential hopefuls like Donald Trump, one might think that a majority of Americans are ignorant, hateful, racist, and xenophobic. The House of Representatives—a body which ostensibly represents the opinion of our country’s citizens—is currently arguing over whether Paul Ryan is too far to the left on immigration reform; Ryan had the audacity to utter the words “earned legalization” during debates on a would-be reform bill in 2013.
This all seems to support that we as a nation are against immigration. But, is that really the case?
Nativism and racism fuel anti-immigration sentiment
Much anti-immigration sentiment simply derives from garden-variety nativism, which enjoys a strong presence in the Tea Party Caucus among House Republicans. A telling quote from Steve Eichler, executive director of the 1776 Tea Party and the Minuteman Project, an anti-immigration vigilante group, sums up the nativist viewpoint: “Everything is at stake. Illegals will bankrupt our social, economic, and financial systems. Terrorists will blow it all to pieces. They’ll all be in our backyards in a matter of weeks, even days, if we don’t step up and demand action.” He went on to suggest that if Republicans didn’t do something about it, the result would be “chaos.”
Racism also motivates anti-immigration activism. The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) report (April 2015) revealed that “a popular Tea Party curriculum on the Making of America even refers to African-American children as ‘pickaninnies,’ claims that the treatment of slaves was ‘humane,’ and that ‘the economic system of slavery chained the slave owners almost as much as the slaves.” The report also cites the Tea Party’s characterization of unarmed black men shot by police as “uncivilized” and getting their “just desserts.”
Propaganda unveiled—the truth about immigrants
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report refutes much of the propaganda used by anti-immigration activists. The report shows that communities where immigrants go improve within a generation; within three generations, immigrants meet or exceed the native-born in educational attainment and job-creating activities.
Immigrants also pour $10 billion into the United States economy every year. A report by the Partnership for a New American Economy notes that immigrants (or their children) founded more than 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies and that the revenue from such companies exceeds the GDP of every country in the world, except the United States, China, and Japan.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office notes, “Over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants—both legal and unauthorized—exceed the cost of the services they use.”
What Americans really think
Immigration, then, by those measures at least, is actually good for the United States in the long run. But what do Americans really think about it?
In a Pew Research Center and NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, conducted in September 2015, in response to the recent announcement that the United States will accept more refugees, 53 percent of respondents affirmed that the federal government should grant citizenship at birth to children born in the United States. During the June–July 2015 Gallup polling period, 73 percent of adults across the nation agreed that “immigration is a good thing for this country today,” while another 65 percent agreed that illegal immigrants should be allowed to “remain in the United States and become US citizens, but only if they meet certain requirements over a period of time.”
Even conservatives (with the exception of the Tea Party) agree that immigration is part of America’s strength. The Brookings Institute notes that the Senate GOP supported comprehensive immigration reform, and did so on traditional conservative grounds such as fiscal responsibility and law and order.
Immigration is tougher on some communities
This is not to say that immigration is benign. The immigrants themselves often experience many hardships, including higher rates of crime and unemployment. Many immigrants are ill-prepared for the challenges of living and working in the United States. If illegal, they are also more vulnerable to mistreatment and criminal exploitation.
Unfortunately, border communities receive a disproportionate number of immigrants and experience a higher impact from their presence. As Asian Nation notes, the “benefits of immigration differed at local, state, and federal levels. As most of the taxes paid by immigrants are collected at the federal level, local and state levels reap less benefits from immigrants and can even experience negative fiscal impacts, especially since they are immediate points of providing most of the social and medical services to immigrants.”
It’s a fact that the United States will continue to accept immigrants fleeing from persecution, war, and economic hardship. To mitigate the impact that these immigrants bring to certain communities, however, it’s imperative that the federal government provide better support at the state and local level and continue to improve its management of immigration overall, especially in the areas of employment and citizenship.
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