Fixing Immigration Requires Historical Understandings & A Sense of HumanityBy
Americans need to be intellectually honest (rather than want to laugh) when empirical and historical evidence concerning immigration realities are provided.
Immigration is intertwined and implicated with our history of excluding citizenship to immigrants of color and with our global economic trade agreements such as NAFTA. Thus, it should surprise no one that The Pew Hispanic Center finds that nearly two-thirds of the over 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have been here for over a decade.
Historical and economic policies are not separate from current immigration realities.
As Americans we must use empirical and historical evidence to form a complicated and nuanced understanding of immigration rather than resort to the disrespectful treatment of prominent scholars, simply because one does not agree with their analysis. If one feels the personal need to be mean-spirited it would be better directed towards Congress, as it is their lack of political will that has created the de facto system of immigration we have today. Congress needs to make immigration policy reforms committed to the political process via deliberation, compromise, political courage and leadership—regardless of whether the outcome pleases everyone. However, for some it is easier to attack academics that have devoted their careers towards critical thinking, developing ideas, and fostering learning and understanding in an effort to make the world a more knowledgeable and with that, better place.
Or one could educate themselves on the historical and empirical realities of immigration in America. For example, In Major Problems in American Immigration History, Professor Mae M. Ngai demonstrates that the study of immigration has evolved from the European model of assimilation to examining where we are today—discussing the major issues surrounding groups who have never had the same opportunity to assimilate because of racist laws and a xenophobic citizenry.
However, for many people it is much easier to fear America’s changing demographics, ignore our white racial frame, and use an ahistorical argument about American exceptionalism by attacking academics with statements such as we would not want “the USA to look just like the third world these people left.” These types of views lacking in substance or empirical evidence are everywhere and do not further efforts at reform or get us closer to a civil dialogue of understanding. One prominent example is evidenced in Patrick Buchanan latest book, Suicide of a Superpower, where he even has a chapter called “The End of White America.” Rather than an honest account of how in every Naturalization Act from 1790 to 1952, Congress included “white person” as a prerequisite for naturalization and that basic laws of citizenship did not apply to racial minorities until 1940 (look it up), Buchanan instead espouses an intellectually dishonest argument intended to instill and deepen distain in whites towards non-whites as they become the minority (oh no!). In short, Buchanan argues that Latinos with greater allegiances to Mexico and their own culture will ruin America’s future. This nativist argument is about economics, xenophobia, and racism. This argument is nothing new and unfortunately, it has many followers.
While European immigrants have also historically confronted hostility, particularly Southern and Eastern Europeans, they never faced the kind of legal racial restrictions on naturalization experienced by people of color. For example, Ngai states,
“…the Immigration Act of 1924 comprised a constellation of reconstructed racial categories….At one level, the new immigration law differentiated Europeans according to nationality and ranked them in a hierarchy of desirability. At another level, the law constructed a white American race, in which persons of European descent shared a common whiteness that made them distinct from those deemed to be not white.”
Ngai goes on to state,
“This distinction gave all Euro-Americans a stake in what Matthew Jacobson has called a ‘consanguine white race” and facilitated their Americanization…[while the] racialization of the latter groups’ [Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans, etc.] national origins rendered them unalterably foreign and unassimilable to the nation.” (p. 387-388).
Unfortunately, the consequences of these laws remain with us today.
The lack of critical analysis around the historic and current racial considerations of immigration and racial exclusion, however, comes at a great cost to us as a nation. Where is our sense of humanity? Who would choose to leave their young children for years to work for next to nothing in a country that does not accept them? Who would chose to watch their children cry of hunger at night because their stomach’s ached from lack of food? Who would chose to leave their elderly parents knowing they may never see them again? Whatever solutions Congress eventually comes up with we ought to be a better nation than to lose the humanity of the situation.
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