Political Debate: Immigration- Democratic View

In the last couple of years, the issue of immigration has become a contentious and tribal affair with many arguments, half-truths and sometimes, blind vitriol being flung at those persons with whom one disagrees. This has become increasingly worse with the current administration and its policies towards both legal and illegal immigrants. With this in mind, I would like to point out a few key issues that I have with both the current immigration policy and with the rhetoric surrounding the issue.

Let us get one thing out of the way; Trump is not just targeting illegal immigrants, but legal ones as well. In August, Trump initiated a policy meant to reduce the chances for anyone seeking a green card if they received public assistance. Nobody should be punished for seeking out help, and creating a policy to dissuade immigrants from seeking public assistance by threatening their ability to live in the U.S. is reprehensible. This policy harms not just illegal immigrants—a group Trump has railed against in the past—but also those who are trying to move through the legal system legally. If the intention is to persuade people to come in legally and avoid illegal border crossings, then there should not be a policy that makes the path towards legality harder.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the way this immigration policy affects refugees. “Refugee”, according to the Department of homeland security, is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Applicants for refugee status are outside the United States, and are, generally, running for their lives and attempting to better their situation because of repression in their country of origin. In 2017, 17.5 percent of admitted refugees were from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 12.8 percent were from Iraq and 12.2 percent were from Syria. Of the 53 thousand refugees who arrived in the United States in 2017, 22,000 were children between the ages of 0 and 17.

The average salary in Syria, as of 2011, was $300 a month, and Congo’s average income was even worse: $397 a year. Iraq is the only country that does slightly better, as the average person makes about $5080 per year as of 2018. Because these countries are impoverished, their fleeing citizens need some degree of public assistance—should they choose to take it—to get themselves situated in the American system. It is unconscionable to say that you want legal immigration and then simultaneously make it harder for people to be a part of that system. If the argument is that social services like TANF, CHIP and other public assistance programs are a drain, then I am sorry, but that is not true for native-born Americans and immigrants. Yet, even if refugees comply with the rules, they would be punished for seeking help just to get on their feet in the first place. It would seem we have forgotten our history as a nation of immigrants and refugees.

Trump once famously stated that Mexican immigration was bringing people with “lots of problems,” and then proceeded to say a line that many of us all know well. Unfortunately for Trump, the idea that there is a wave of “crooked” immigrants coming into the U.S. illegally just isn’t true. Between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born portion of the population increased from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent, while the illegal immigrant population tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million people. However, at the same time, the violent crime rate decreased by 48 percent. If the immigrant population, both lawful and unlawful, contributed to a rise in crime, we should see a rise in violent crime, but that is not what we see here. Across the board, immigrants have much lower incarceration rates than their native-born American counterparts. In 2010, roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males aged 18-39 were incarcerated compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born populace.

The fear that illegal immigrants are inherently violent or dangerous, although well-established in American discourse, is not accurate and we have seen why it is inaccurate repeatedly. Yes, we are a nation of laws, but those laws should be based on fact rather than feeling, with careful consideration given to the impact that laws have on human lives. We should not use one-off stories to support broad generalizations, nor should such narratives influence policy decisions because they may lead us to make rash decisions that do not solve problems, but create them instead.

Sources used and additional reading:

  1. Robinson, Eugene. “Trump’s Claim That He Supports Legal Immigration Turns out to Be a Lie.” The Washington Post. WP Company, August 12, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-claim-that-he-supports-legal-immigration-turns-out-to-be-a-lie/2019/08/12/66f09920-bd32-11e9-b873-63ace636af08_story.html.
  2. Mossad, Nadwa. “Refugees and Asylees: 2017.” Department of Homeland Security.Org. Office of Immigration Statisitics. Accessed September 22, 2019. https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Refugees_Asylees_2017.pdf.
  3. Damascus, Lauren Williams in. “’Things Are Getting Harder in Syria. But This Is Not Egypt’.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, February 14, 2011. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/feb/14/syria-young-people-unemployment.
  4. “GNI per Capita, Atlas Method (Current US$).” World Bank Group.org. World Bank, April 2, 2019. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=IQ.
  5. “Welfare and the Federal Budget.” Econofact, October 13, 2018. https://econofact.org/welfare-and-the-federal-budget.
  6. Carter, John. “Affirmative Asylum Application Statistics and Decisions …” Department of Homeland Security, June 20, 2016. https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/U.S.%20Citizenship%20and%20Immigration%20Services%20%20Affirmative%20Asylum%20Application%20Statistics%20and%20Decisions%20Annual%20Report%20-%20FY%202016.pdf
  7. “Learn About the Asylum Application Process.” USCIS, August 6, 2015. https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum.
  8. Ewing, Walter, Daniel E. Martínez, and Rubén Rumbaut. “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States.” American Immigration Council. American Immigration Council, November 29, 2016. http://immigrationpolicy.org/research/criminalization-immigration-united-states.
  9. Butcher, Kristin F., and Anne Morrison Piehl. Public Policy Institute of California. Public Policy Institute, February 2008. https://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/cacounts/CC_208KBCC.pdf.
  10. Nowrasteh, Alex. “Illegal Immigrants and Crime – Assessing the Evidence.” Cato Institute. Cato Institute, March 4, 2019. https://www.cato.org/blog/illegal-immigrants-crime-assessing-evidence.
  11. Nowrasteh, Alex. “Immigration and Crime – What the Research Says.” Cato Institute. Cato Institute, February 23, 2016. https://www.cato.org/blog/immigration-crime-what-research-says.
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Conor J. Kelly was the Opinion Editor for the Lorian and a prolific staff writer. He graduated from Loras College in April of 2021 and is now pursuing his master's in political science at the University of Illinois, Springfield. You can find his new work on The Progressive American newsletter.

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