One of the hottest topics of present-day America, and undoubtedly one of the most important. Many people have extreme polar views on immigration and it remains one of the largest dividers in American politics.
I had the honor of being interviewed by school reporters on the issue of immigration and its potential effects on our country. Here are my responses:
- How do you think Donald Trump’s speeches have affected people’s opinions on immigrants?
This is a tough question, not so much as in the difficulty of the answer (I think the answer is pretty clear), but more so in finding the proper way to formulate my response. Donald Trump has been, throughout his campaign, notorious for inciting demeaning comments and threatening attitudes towards not only migrants, but towards almost every minority present in the United States. What his speeches have done is give a voice to millions of people that share these vehement views towards newcomers, allowing immigrant dissidents to assemble more coherently. There is technically no official problem to this, as America does not prohibit any one group from expressing their ideas. Remember, the KKK is still allowed to form? The problem arises when these collective ideas turn to aggression and violence. His speeches have aided this subject to become more mainstream, thereby allowing people who share his view to feel more confident in public expressions. I don’t think it’s surprising that after the election, hate crimes towards minorities rose1,2
For immigrant populations, this is a disaster. Coming from a family with an immigrant father and a Hispanic mother, I find this highly distasteful. To me, it disrespects and discredits millions of people without ever hearing their story. I think the general populace has a problem with generalizations; we generalize all immigrants to be A or B (oftentimes not even making distinctions between legal and illegal immigrants), and that is harmful to any policy or solution making. There is no legitimate way to define immigrants; they are all here for different reasons. They might have come legally or illegally, as a criminal or as a doctor, a child or adult, a refugee or simply a job searcher, you never know. This broad variety in immigrants is strangely familiar. Oh yeah, it’s exactly like the diversity already found within the American natural born populace, which makes sense considering this country was formed by immigrants.
As a conclusion, it is not effective to categorize all immigrants into one category and make broad political statements (@realDonaldTrump).
- Do you support the building of the wall? Why/why not?
No. Besides being a colossal waste of federal tax dollars and effort, I don’t think it will be effective in any way in reducing migrant routes. It may force more and more people to take more dangerous routes over water, as mirrored by current crises and loss of life in the Mediterranean, and that’s not a humanitarian crisis we need to add to the world.
I understand the need for having a watchful border and knowledge on who currently resides within the country, but a wall invokes a strong protectionist ideology, one that is not conducive to the future of the United States.
Nice quote: “Build bridges, not walls.” –Angela Merkel
- Why do native born people feel threatened by immigrants?
People have an innate fear of harmful change. In many European countries, there is a fear that too many migrants might ‘overpower’ the pre-existing culture. For countries that have centuries old traditions, this is a reasonable concern. It is, however, still a false one. Culture is never at stand-still, and what people know today is not the same as what existed 100 years ago. Yet, nobody laments this ‘loss’ of culture. Why: because no true loss occurred. Migrants bring, rather than take, away from a general populace’s cultural prowess. Through integration and assimilation, immigrants add traditions and bring new ideas to countries, without ‘ruining’ or ‘erasing’ existing standards.
For a country like the United States, this is even more prevalent. America has no single defining culture; it is instead a collection of subcultures upon subcultures: a culture conglomerate. The whole foundation of our country is based upon the addition of other ideas, beliefs, and cultures.
I would also like to add an interesting tidbit on race here. By 2050, ‘white’ Americans are projected to lose their majority status3. Many of the people protesting that minorities get ‘special treatment’ or are ‘preferred’ by the government are often shocked when presented with the fact that they, too, will soon be a minority. It is off-putting or even frightening to them, but why? After all, according to them, minorities are handled more preferentially than the majority group. Why would they not also gain this preference? In actuality, they know that there is still a disparity between races within America, and this is very rampant within discussions about immigration. Collaboration in terms of race, beliefs, politics, and social policies will be extremely important as we move forward into the future of the United States.
- Do you think immigrants have harmed the U.S.? How?
No, I don’t believe immigrants, as a group, have harmed the U.S. in any way. The common complaint/outcry I’ve heard from people before is “They’re stealing our jobs!” This seems to be a widespread fear people have, but I have never been able to comprehend this mentality. If a migrant receives an occupation at the expense of an American worker, the only explanation is that the migrant does a better job, simple as that. If the productivity of the natural born citizen had been greater than that of the immigrant, he/she wouldn’t have lost their position. In other words, the phrase “they’re stealing our jobs” is nothing more than a collective fear from people that feel they will be outperformed in their professional fields. For the country, it is in its best interest to have competition, as this boosts productivity and expands the potential workforce. To the people who use this slogan, I would suggest focusing more on improving your working potential; this might be more effective than trying to lock people out.
The only exception to this would be when companies hire illegal immigrants and underpay them, again at the expense of American workers. That is the only situation in which I would say the American worker has been taken advantage of. However, it’s not the fault of the particular immigrant, but rather the companies participating in illegal activities, and legislation should be geared towards stopping this promiscuity, instead of infringing upon actions of immigrants. In this case, the problem deals with basic rights, which should be seen equally across the country, regardless of citizenship.
Another concern people have is criminal activity among immigrant populations. When fleeing or seeking prospects in another country, there is a tendency to end up in less than ideal situations. Many immigrants that have fled persecution or sought a better life end up living a life of poverty within the United States. With high-scale poverty, there is a tendency to see an increase in crime, especially in minor and petty crimes. This problem exists, it’s not made up, but it’s largely reflected by socioeconomic status, and not by the status of an “immigrant”. To refuse entry to immigrants on the possibility that they might be criminals is inhumane. Let’s assume you are a senior in high school. What would you do if the police showed up at your house and arrested you on the charge of possibly smoking marijuana? After all, you are a high school student growing up in an increasingly pro-marijuana friendly country, so the chances that you will or have had smoked is high. Would that feel fair to you? No, and it shouldn’t, because that’s not the way our legal system works. Immigrants are people and are entitled to these rights guaranteed by the Constitution. If criminal activity persists on more extreme scales, immigrants also have the responsibility of being persecuted under the law. Instead of deporting dangerous criminals out of the country (shifting responsibility), rehabilitate them like any other person tried on American soil.
- Do you think immigrants have helped the U.S.? How?
Yes, I do. Citizens and people in general help the U.S. in all possible ways. Immigrants are people, and thus, have also helped the U.S. When I was younger, I had a friend (I’ll call her Lucia) whose mother was in the United States illegally. She had left Colombia to not only have a better life for herself, but to give her daughter a ‘proper’ education. As an illegal immigrant, not a lot of jobs were available to her, but she searched for anything she could find. As a result, they subsisted off minimum wage and Lucia was able to go to school. She didn’t just do well in school, she excelled in it. She made all A’s at Wade Hampton High School and even got accepted into the Fine Arts Center for film and visual art. Before senior year for her started, Lucia’s mom realized she would have to go back to Colombia, or Lucia would not be able to go to college. She made the tough choice of voluntarily leaving the country, and a year later Lucia was back in the United States studying cinematography in California as an international student. Her mother remained in Colombia. This little anecdote really serves to show the quality of people (intelligent, selfless, hardworking) that are included in the broad umbrella term of “illegal immigrant”. Too often, we get paralyzed on the negatives and we fail to see this personal, humanitarian issue for what it really is.
- Why should we learn to appreciate immigrants more?
Appreciate immigrants because of the struggle they live through every day that is rarely talked about. Appreciate immigrants because of their backgrounds, which can oftentimes be more horrific than you can imagine. Appreciate immigrants because of regardless of your political stances, we all respect human life.
Last year, I had the opportunity to work as a language teacher to refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, and it was a really eye opening experience. These people have gone through so much: losing family members, military opposition, death threats, bombings, experiences that will make your hair stand on end, etc. I recommend, if you’re on the fence about this issue, to go and personally speak with immigrants and hear their stories. It will make you incapable of closing a door to millions of people in need.