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It’s time to move the immigration debate to a substantive level

REUTERS/Dominick Reuter
During Donald Trump’s candidacy for president, the inflammatory remarks he made toward immigrant populations dominated the headlines.

The United States’ debate over immigration policy has been absent of actual debate in substantive terms. During Donald Trump’s candidacy for president, the inflammatory remarks he made toward immigrant populations dominated the headlines. The left-leaning news media focused on the tactlessness of the remarks while the right-wing outlets defended and/or apologized for them. Neither side made use of the accessible information, based on facts, that has been provided by the decades of research on the subject. The immigration policy debate seems less about immigration and more about a policymaker’s likelihood of re-election. The news media are allowing the debate to be one of rhetoric, which allows these myths a perpetual, unchallenged existence.

Adam Hurlburt

“If we can save American lives, American jobs and American futures, together we can save America itself.”  — Donald Trump

This quote encapsulates the most prevalent immigration myths in public discourse. Immigrants and refugees are blamed for taking our jobs, for higher crime rates, and viewed cautiously as potential terrorists. There is very little evidence to warrant any of these claims, yet they dominate the debate, discouraging us from a public discussion based on facts.

Many Americans assume that more people moving to the United States increases competition for available jobs. When we look at historical immigration rates compared to the corresponding time period’s unemployment rates, we find that there is very little evidence that they have any relation to one another. The high levels of unemployment during the Great Depression, for example, occurred during an era when immigration rates were the lowest in history. Furthermore, if we take into account the growth in population associated with an increased rate of migration, we must also realize that population growth and job creation go hand-in-hand — more people/more jobs.

The role of globalization

The myth that immigrants take American jobs leads us to overlook, oversimplify, and ignore very real circumstances that are proven to actually take jobs. The United States economy was founded on slavery, the most inhumane/immoral source of cheap labor ever devised by the human race. The country’s abolition of slavery changed the moral direction of our society, but it did not change the American economy’s increasing demand for cheap labor. This insatiable appetite for cheap labor is the origin of globalization, which is a primary cause of job loss in the United States.

While we argue, falsely, about immigrants taking our jobs, the very real economic forces responsible continue to do so. The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was designed to increase business across our borders, which it has done successfully. Unfortunately, provisions within the document also discouraged immigration flows that would coincide with the flow of commerce, leading many American companies to look outside of the U.S. for the labor. These companies continue to exploit Third World countries of their resources and low-wage labor pools, impacting the political stability of whole regions in the name of economic gain. This economic and political behavior has left many people with little choice but to find a better life in another land. Ironically, that land of opportunity has traditionally been the United States.

The morality myth

Americans are led to believe that these immigrants are morally deviant, drug-dealing invaders, intent on destroying the essence of what America means to us. Donald Trump stated this so memorably:

● “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

This view, coupled with his executive order to ban travelers from some predominantly Muslim countries, feeds into the distrust of foreigners felt by a large portion of American society. The media exacerbate the anxieties by fixating on criminal acts carried out by undocumented immigrants while ignoring the very same acts committed by native-born Americans. Many headlines were written about two teenaged undocumented immigrants who were accused of raping a female classmate in Maryland; the few headlines pertaining to all charges being dropped a few weeks later were much harder to find. Criminal acts should be dealt with according to the law, but we must acknowledge the overrepresentation and rhetoric used in the news stories regarding immigrants and the crimes they allegedly commit.

Opening up to the positives

Fear is a natural emotion to arise when the normalcy of life is challenged by the unknown. The human fight-or-flight instinct is not in step with how connected our worlds have become. By resisting the tendency to assume the negative aspects of unfamiliar people and cultures, we open ourselves to the positives that come from the natural exchange of ideas and experiences that will only improve our lives together as we become more connected.

The individuals who labor in perpetuating immigration myths do so in order to serve their own political/economic interest, or they have simply chosen to remain ignorant. Neither reason serves the interest of the public, or the dignities of those affected.

Adam Hurlburt is a student at the University of Minnesota.


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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 05/25/2017 - 08:46 am.

    Over simplified again

    The author is also over simplifying and making sweeping generalizations, mainly just to make an unstated argument for open immigration.
    He repeats the left’s argument of what Trump said against immigration. What he and the left don’t also say is that Trump is for immigration for those that do it lawfully and to make our country better. There are many people here illegally that have done nothing but commit crime because it’s better business here than where they came from. Just look at the hundreds of thousands of crimes Texas and Arizona put up with. There are many American citizens near the border that are afraid of their lives and property because of the cartels.
    The note about globalization is over simplified. Companies have moved jobs to other countries because we have allowed them to. Highest corporate taxation is the biggest piece of it. And even with the lower labor costs, the standards of living in those areas where factories are run still greatly increases their standards of living. There are places where factories are exploiting workers and you are seeing companies move away from those types of places. Even so, with better tax structure, we can keep those jobs in the US but our government’s insatiable appetite to spend and some that always want to increase wealth redistribution is a huge incentive to keep those jobs away from the US.

    • Submitted by Erik Kengaard on 05/25/2017 - 12:33 pm.

      Well said

      The forces supporting increase in population via immigration are powerful and well funded. The forces opposing, via NumbersUAS, CAPS, etc., are weak, and funded by small donations from those that understand the consequences of unimpeded growth.
      The major problem is the many well meaning people who don’t understand, but complain of the consequences.

  2. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/25/2017 - 12:45 pm.

    Politically Incorrect

    While it is true that immigrants as a group pull their own economic weight, I don’t choose to value other humans by their economic productivity.

    This may be politically incorrect of me, but as a pro life, pro family Christian, I look to the words of the prophet Isaiah:

    Welcome the alien in your midst, for you were once an alien in the land of Egypt.

  3. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 05/26/2017 - 07:05 am.

    See the difference

    Any immigration debate should start (and end) with an agreement that illegal immigration is illegal and must be stopped before anything else is done. Immigration and illegal immigration are two different things and shall always be clearly distinguished… which the author fails to do.

    On the other hand, we should all take pride in the fact that that refugees and legal immigrants are better off in America than in Europe as the recent Community Voice post emphasized.

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