Why would you be upset about immigrants?

I’m always really bothered by anti-immigration rhetoric and views. I have never understood that. There are quite a few things I’ve evolved/improved my views on, but I don’t remember a time in my life where I ever opposed immigration or easier paths to citizenship. I remember in 4th grade we spent a lot of time discussing genealogy and immigration, including a visit to an immigration-themed museum in Boston. And there were quite a few people in my class who were immigrants themselves and were hoping to become citizens and were still many years away from citizenship despite living here nearly their whole lives. That made no sense to me. I guess maybe that stuck with me. That year, my parents also took me and my sister to visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York — where we saw how cramped the Sephardic immigrants had been — as well as the museum at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The poem at the base has always resonated with me.

My parents both emphasized my multi-ethnic immigrant backgrounds although my mother is 4th generation American and my father is a classic New Englander with multiple Mayflower ancestors (in addition to an American Revolution-era Irish branch). Although my maternal grandfather has become pretty xenophobic and anti-immigrant, he and his extended family also all still identify very heavily with their grandparents’ Azorean Portuguese culture and celebrate that heritage each year. My dad — the old-school Yankee — may still not be as progressive as I would like on some other identity issues, but he certainly backed my 4th grade teacher’s pro-immigration lessons, even if he dismissed some of the other lessons as “politically correct nonsense” or whatever, at the time. That was definitely an influential year for me, and I don’t really remember the subject coming up very much before then.

Honestly, I just don’t know why folks would oppose immigration, generally speaking. It’s what made America the country it became, and it was a major source of our economic strength. It still is today, particularly when we compare our labor markets and entitlement program integrity to those of most of the other industrialized nations — but that’s often due to undocumented immigration resulting from onerous legal immigration paths and unreasonable quotas/caps. Ideally, I would support a much more flexible and welcoming immigration policy with very few limits and a much faster path to citizenship for everyone. Pragmatically, I generally support one of the many “comprehensive immigration reform” plans discussed in Washington over the past decade. I even wrote a summary of one such plan on my first campaign job, so the candidate would be prepared on the off-chance someone asked him what his views were on the subject. It was certainly more moderate than my own views, but I understand that it’s pretty unrealistic to assume we’re going to throw open the gates and welcome all the non-felons of the world with open arms — and it would probably have a deleterious effect on wages and the broader labor market if there were a sudden and uncontrolled, massive influx of immigrant labor of all skill levels after a long period of heavy restrictions. But in general, I see immigration as an economic and cultural positive, and I also (broadly) favor global and transnational integration of societies and the formal or informal elimination of borders wherever possible.

In any case, the knee-jerk reactions, the xenophobia, and the tired lies and exaggerations about immigrants — and particularly undocumented and lower-skilled immigrants always really get under my skin. How does it negatively affect you or any of us, really? We’re the melting pot and we always have been. Let’s keep putting stuff into the stew! We should be welcoming the cultural, economic, and other contributions to American society that immigrants have brought and continue to make, instead of dismissing and insulting them. I think vocal, bitter opposition to immigration says a lot more about the folks saying that stuff than it does about the people coming here.

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and is a Senior Editor for The Globalist. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.
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