July 1 2011
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
Indiana University Indianapolis (IUPUI)
WHAT IS THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE?
Throughout American history,
each new wave of immigrants has experienced racism and discrimination.
Immigrants and their advocates have challenged Americans to live up to our own core ideals.
In recent years, we have seen a visible increase in new immigrants in the U.S. There have traditionally
been immigrant neighborhoods in most large cities across America, including Irish, Germans, Italians, and
also African Americans and Appalachians who have moved to new areas in the country. After World War
II, suburbs began developing around the country, and many ethnic neighborhoods melted away. Until
recently, immigration ceased to be a visible issue. In the 1990s, however, a new wave of immigrants
became visible, as economic globalization, new social conflicts, and other forces after the end of the Cold
War increased the rates of migration all over the world. Hispanics are the largest and most visible of these
new immigrants in the U.S., but people have come from every region in the world seeking to support their
families and to realize new opportunities.
Popular reactions to these new immigrants have also been emerging in recent years. Some responses
have been positive, as new neighbors have been welcomed into jobs and communities. But there have
also been negative reactions, particularly after the attacks of September 11 2001. After the Civil Rights
Movement, it was no longer acceptable in America to openly express hate and racism... but now it seems OK
to be hateful and racist against immigrants. Myths and misinformation are clouding understandings, the
voices of prejudice and discrimination are becoming louder, and anti-immigrants
are forming vigilante groups and pushing policies that are punitive and oppressive
What is the Real Immigration Issue?
The American society is facing a major challenge: What kind of society we are
making for ourselves? Social conflicts reflect larger imbalances and stresses in a society. In
these cases, people need a meaningful explanation of the disorder they are feeling in their lives.
Mass reactions take the society in new directions... but narrow perspectives can take societies down a
path of self-destruction, as in Nazi Germany, or in a progressive direction to a more adaptive balance,
as with the American Revolution. In facing the immigration issue, will we become a hateful and
oppressive society? Or will we become the best that we can be as a people?
Unfortunately, proposals to make felons of undocumented immigrants and to deport them all set the
lowest standards for the public debate. In considering the "compromise" process that
continually lowers the standards, we call on the American people to consider the consequences on what
kind of society we are making for ourselves:
- How does hate affect us all? Punishing immigrants for trying to escape poverty and oppression
does not address the causes of migration, caused in part by U.S. polices abroad. Can we be
satisfied by only creating more suffering of human beings who are trying to support their families,
are hardworking, and are making significant contributions to the American society and economy?
- How does anti-immigrant discrimination affect our society? Immigrants
contribute over $400 billion annual to our economy, pay millions in taxes, are a critical component
of the labor market, and support millions of jobs through their purchasing power. Are we willing to
sacrifice the subsistence wellbeing of the majority of Americans for spite? As we have seen in our
own history, discrimination breeds a marginalized underclass, crime, and social conflict. Is this
want for ourselves with the new racism against immigrants? Also, as Dr. Martin Luther King once stated,
denying basic human, constitutional, and civil rights to anyone jeopardizes these rights for everyone.
Driving a huge population further underground jeopardizes our national security, by making it harder to
find anyone who may wish us harm. Or, can we find a way for the new immigrants to integrate themselves
into our communities and local economies, to fulfill their human potentials, and become contributing
members of our society?
- How does our treatment of immigrants impact on our relations with the rest of the world?
People all over the world hear about how we are treating their relatives and countrymen, and this
creates further resentment and antipathy against Americans. What future can we expect for our society
if we push others to be against us?
- How we treat immigrants reflects what kind of society we are making for ourselves and our children.
Advocates of comprehensive immigration reform call for core changes in our public policies:
- Legal residency for immigrants permanently working and living in the country, and a path to citizenship for them to be full participants in our society.
- Reunification of families separated by international borders, so we can incorporate the strong family values immigrants bring to our society.
- Full human, civil, due process, and working rights for all immigrants, so we can live up to our ideals of liberty and justice for all.
- An ongoing process for addressing these issues with future migrant flows, including the free flow of workers between countries having trade agreements, so our society doesn't have to continue going through the social disruptions of integrating newcomers every decade or so.
These points set the positive standards for addressing immigration, and we need to give our active support in building a better society for us all.
The following online sources provide further insights into the immigration debate. (All links open in
a new page.)
- What Is the Immigration Debate?
The United States currently has about twelve million people who are in the country without
authorization. We often hear about the "broken" immigration system, but what exactly is "broken"
that needs fixing? Until we can identify the basic problems and causes of migration, this
issue will never be resolved.
- What Are the Reality Gaps in the Immigration Debate?
Every day we hear statements being made about immigrants taking American jobs, not wanting to
learn English, using up Social Security resources, etc. How can we find out what is valid in such
statements, and what are unfounded myths? More important, what are the hidden agendas
behind these myths? And what are the larger impacts of hate and discrimination on the functioning
and future of our society?
- Who Are the Anti-Immigrants?
Who is behind the anti-immigrant network? Do you know that John Tanton’s
anti-immigrant movement was founded with neo-Nazi money? As we learned in the Civil Rights
movement, some set impossible standards which demand that all others be exactly like "us"
- biologically and mentally. The anti-immigrants are actually a very small part of the
American society, but they are very loud and seem to dominate the public debate. But who is
benefiting from stirring up anti-immigrant feelings?
- What Do We Want in Immigration Reform?
When we talk about immigration reform, we have to face the reality that there is a large
population of immigrants already here and that humans all over the world have migrated since the
beginning of history. Walls and harsh policies have never kept people from seeking new opportunities.
It is clear that we need to address the root causes that drive people from their homelands
and draws them to seek better lives elsewhere. What is the most balanced solution to immigration
reform that will ensure the continued adaptive functioning of the American society?
- What Direction Will America Go? What Can I Do?
As with all issues, what kind of society are we creating for our children and the future of
America? Effective long-term solutions to any issue requires understanding the underlying
causes of problems, a consideration of the human feelings that drive our own and
others' actions, and seeking a balance that will have a positive outcome for all concerned.
What can I do to contribute to a positive future for our society?
Also see College Guide for Undocumented Students
One great strength we have as Americans is that we are a nation of immigrants. We
can draw on the collective innovative thinking and practical experience of people from all over the
human domain to gain insights into our challenges and into effective solutions that benefit us all. Americans have done this throughout our history, and we can continue to do this now!
Thank you for helping build a better society that lives up to our positive potentials as human beings!
* No personal information is collected on this or related pages. You may use these materials in your own personal learning and research, though I'd appreciate your giving me credit.
© Ken Barger 2014