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Nativism rears its head again

The country doesn’t need to fix immigration problems — it needs to understand and fix the problem of nativism

I am writing to respond to the recent (Dec. 3) opinion piece by Rich Lowry of King Features Syndicate, entitled “Biden ready to lose control of immigration.” It is an article filled with underlying hatred and lack of compassion for immigrants living in the United States.

We have long been a country that does not and never has lived up to its founding principles as imbedded in our Declaration of Independence, which emphasized “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In our other founding document, the Constitution, the country was embedding the concept of slavery. Our early policies took lands from various Native American tribes and forcibly removed them to reservations under government control, and sent their children to government schools where they could be “civilized.” A short-lived political party called the American Party — with the nickname of Know Nothing Party — was based on the concept of nativism and was primarily an anti-Catholic, anti-immigration and xenophobic movement. It used the type of rhetoric we have been hearing from Donald Trump and other politicians whose primary objective appears to be to divide the country rather than having objective discussions about real issues facing our society.

Conservative writers like Lowry, along with conservative media outlets, keep misleading the American public by outlandish claims that the Obama administration initiated the family separation policy, when there is not any substance of truth to the claim. At the same time, the Obama administration did not have the most enlightened policies, and bad decisions were impacting asylum seekers during the Obama presidency. Immigration policies have gotten many times more negative and unjust during the four years of the Trump presidency. The so-called immigration crisis is simply another sad story of U.S. government ineptitude and unjust treatment of immigrants dating back to the late 19th century. First it was severe discrimination and treatment of Chinese laborers, followed by immigration quotas against Eastern European immigrants starting in the 1920s, which was then followed by a massive detention and deportation of Mexican-Americans, including U.S. citizens, in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Finally, the sad story of Japanese-Americans placed in detention camps during World War II is very much part of our history of discrimination and racism. None of this history is anything we should be proud of as a country.

Similarly, the things which Lowry appears to applaud — such as finding a way to citizenship for children raised in this country, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — shows a complete lack of empathy for individuals who are already making a contribution to our society and economy. Why? It all has to do with nativism, which by definition means the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants. The only problem is that we are a nation of immigrants, so by definition, nativism is also internally inconsistent if not a convoluted twist on reason and logic.

Here is what Abraham Lincoln said about nativism in a letter about the Know Nothing Party: “As a nation, we begin by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

That is again where anti-immigration policies are leading us if they are not also built on fairness, tolerance and a sense of justice rather than fear and hatred. The fact of the matter is that immigrants — including those who have overstayed work or school visas, and are therefore in legal jeopardy of being deported — contribute to both our society and our economy in numerous ways. Many of them, including Mexican farm and factory workers, are part of our essential workforce that helped keep and continue to keep our supply chains intact during the COVID epidemic. The Center for Budget Priorities (www.cbpp.org) notes the following regarding the contribution of immigrants to the U.S. economy:

“In 2018, the labor force participation rate of foreign-born adults was 65.7 percent, higher than the 62.3 percent rate for the native born, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some 27.2 million foreign-born adults, 63.4 percent of all foreign-born adults, were employed that year, compared to 59.8 percent of native-born adults. Immigrants hold jobs that are important to our economy and communities. Immigrant workers without a college degree are found throughout the economy and make up a sizable share of the workers in certain industries. Firms in such industries will have a harder time hiring staff if these workers can no longer come to or stay in the United States. Fully 36 percent of workers in the farming, fishing, and forestry fields are immigrants without a college degree, as are 36 percent of building and grounds cleaning and maintenance workers, 27 percent of hotel workers, and 21 percent of home health care industry workers.”

It would be shortsighted to an extreme to not recognize, cherish and applaud what immigrants add to our nation. Instead of the absurd negativity and lack of compassion as demonstrated in Mr. Lowry’s article, we should instead be developing policies which were fair and just and focused on how immigrants were contributing to our nation’s prosperity if we have any hope at all of actually pursuing what would “Make America Great Again.” In fact, recognizing the importance of success may be one of the principle ways to achieve what appears to be a very elusive greatness.

James Connolly lives in Lake Clear.

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