When viewed in the context of our history, the beautiful heart-felt words of poet Emma Lazarus engraved by the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses," say more about our surface idealism than our real feelings as a nation.
Historically we have welcomed immigrants mainly when we needed them, and then not always with open arms: the Irish to serve in the Civil War Union Army and clean northeastern wealthy homes; Germans and Scandinavians to farm the Midwest; Italians to work in the steel mills; Polish and eastern Europeans to mine the coal and Iron ore; Jews for the garment industry; Chinese to build the western railroads; the list could go on.
But when the economy slows down and jobs become scarce we revert to our usual xenophobic attitudes, particularly if the immigrants happened to be of a darker complexion. During difficult economic times anti-immigrant sentiments usually rise.
In the 2016 campaign Donald Trump convinced most southerners and northeastern and mid-western blue-collar workers that job losses and high crime rates (which actually didn’t exist) were due to the Democrats’ free-trade and liberal immigration policies.
How does Trump get by with such claims? Evidently he is sure his supporters will not bother to check the facts. But, as I’ve said before, in today’s information age environment there’s no excuse for anyone with a computer or access to one being uninformed.
Do immigrants actually bring violent, including rape? Contrary to Trump’s assertions, immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. According to a 2015 report by the American Immigration Council, while the U.S. population grew more than 5% over the past 25 years, violent crime dropped dramatically.
The foreign-born share of the population grew from 7.9% in 1990 to 13.1% in 2013. But during this same period FBI records show that violent crime dropped 48%. Incarceration rates for immigrant males between 18 - 39 are around 1.8% compared to 3.3% for native born offenders.
Most of these statistics were gathered in California, the state with the largest non-white immigrant population. Trump’s Mexican immigrant rapists? More than 95% of all sexual assault cases are committed by native-born Americans. Then using Trump-style logic, to lower the crime rate maybe we should open the flood gates to wholesale immigration. But seriously, what went wrong with our well-intended immigration reform laws?
Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, a reasonable, well-thought-out law, has been largely a failure, mainly because it has rarely been enforced. According to former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, "For twenty years our country has done basically nothing to enforce the 1986 legislation against either the employers who hire illegal immigrants or those who cross our borders illegally to work for them."
As for legislative reform, at various times both parties have controlled both the White House and Congress, yet almost nothing has been done. Some say the Democrats see the immigrants as potential voters and the Republicans value them to hold wages down. Personally, think it’s all a royal mess.
And what can be done about this mess? In a nation where only 58% of the eligible voters actually vote, probably very little.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.