For people to be against illegal immigration is understandable- not necessarily commendable, but certainly understandable. Illegal immigrants may enjoy certain benefits from a nation while avoiding the responsibilities of citizenship (taxes, jury duty, the unlikely event of a draft, and so on). Being in a country illegally means that “illegals” (‘Unregistered’, as they prefer to be called) are not protected by labor laws and may be hired by companies and individuals to work long hours in dangerous conditions with little pay and no medical benefits- resulting in immigrants being hired for unskilled/manual labor and citizens being laid off. Now ignoring the fact that most immigrants leave their families and homelands behind, travel hundreds of miles in often dangerous conditions, sneak across the border, and allow themselves to be exploited and abused just to send money home- it’s easy to see why some people would be upset at illegal immigration.
But what we are currently seeing in both the US and in Europe isn’t mere, misguided anger at illegal immigration but at immigrants- legal or otherwise. The explosion of paranoia concerning ‘anchor-babies’- a derogatory term for the practice of gaining citizenship through having a child born in the US, as ensured by the 14th amendment (“All persons born or naturalized in the United States… are citizens of the United States…”). Now this isn’t illegal immigration- this is legitimate, protected not by law by the foundation of US government- yet there’s still an outcry against it, some even advocating the repeal of the 14th amendment.
Why? A number of reasons are given. Michelle Malkin, a commentator primarily for Fox News, argues that granted citizenship to those born in the US is detrimental to the “…integrity of citizenship-not to mention national security.”
Exactly how granting citizenship to those born in the US undermines the integrity of citizenship is a little confusing- citizenship is automatically granted to the children born in the US (to American parents), why is this less [supposedly] harmful? As for the issue of national security, immigrants are flooding into this country to take advantage of the freedoms and opportunities offered here- to suppose that immigrants would, en masse, attempt to overthrow or harm the nation they’re trying to be a part of is- to be blunt- idiocy.
Others, such as Glenn Beck, have claimed that the 14th amendment was intended only to protect the rights of former slaves freed after the civil war, and the amendment should not be applied to immigrants, going so far as to state “Slavery is a long time ago.”. Now with immigrants working for well below the minimum wage in often dangerous conditions (to say nothing of the number of genuine slaves in the country) one could easily retort that the need to protect the rights of slaves (wage-slaves and actual slaves) is needed now more than ever! Just because slavery has moved to the fruit orchards of California from the cotton fields of South Carolina doesn’t mean that’s gone. Not for Sale, an abolitionist organization estimates that there are 30 million slaves around the world.
The simple fact is that what we’re witnessing isn’t anti-illegal immigrant sentiment, but anti-immigrant feelings- something with far more disturbing implications.
Anti-immigrant sentiment stems from a number of factors, the foremost (in the US, anyways) is that immigrants rob citizens of their jobs. But what is forgotten too often is that we are all immigrants, that at some point all of our ancestors struggled for a new life- competition can to rear its ugly head anywhere- if you have an issue with it, take it up with Capitalism, not immigrants stuck in the same position as your grandparents once found themselves.
The fear of change is another- changes in culture, changes in demographics, changes in language and religions and so on. This fear is perhaps best exemplified in Britain, where anti-immigrant fear is has resulted in the creation of such groups as the English Defense League (EDL) and the British Nationalist Party (BNP). According to the official website of the BNP “All these facts point inexorably to the overwhelming and extinguishing of Britain and British identity under a tsunami of immigration.”
The idea that somehow culture is meant to remain stagnant is, of course, ridiculous. Cultures are in a constant state of flux, old traditions are abolished, new customs arise, and the mix of various cultures is an integral part of that. Has immigration into the US destroyed culture? On the contrary, immigration has increased the variety of foods we eat, beverages we drink, holidays we celebrate, and the ways we look at the world around us.
But nevertheless the bias remains in spite of these truths. Why?
It’s ugly, it’s difficult to accept, but it’s there. Whether we’re walking basing our political campaigns on the promise to “Offer generous grants to those of foreign descent resident here who wish to leave permanently.” (As the BNP does) or considering repealing the 14th amendment (as some in the US have suggested) or subconsciously conjuring up the image of a minority stereotype when we hear of a crime that’s been committed, we are basing our actions on the idea that some people are worse than others because of the color of their skin, the size of their noses, the width between their eyes and so on. It’s not all our fault- crime, drugs, illiteracy, and ignorance are highest among the poor and working class- the vast majority of whom are immigrants and/or minorities. It’s easy to fall into the habit of associating crime/drugs/etc. not with poverty but with those who are unfortunate enough to be poor, and from this stems racism.
It’s not all our fault- but a lot of it still is. We know that brown and blue eyes squint at the same sun. We know that curly and straight hair will eventually turn gray. We know that beneath black and white and brown skin there’s the same bones and organs. In short, we know better.
So fight fear and racism and put yourself in the shoes of immigrants, legal and illegal alike. If roles were reversed, you’d have as much motivation to travel wherever you wanted in the world to make a better life for yourself. You’d have as much of a rights.