Immigration and Nationalisms

The fiscal year is the period October 1-September 30. These numbers come from various sources, including the United States Border Patrol, Custom and Border Protection, and the Department of Homeland Security. I conclude this blog with commentary. 

Immigrant families irregularly crossing the United States’ southern border exceeded 100,000 in 2018. This is a record number for this category. The vast majority were Central Americas, and 98% of them (including tens of thousands of unaccompanied children) remain in the United States.

A summer surge followed abandonment of zero tolerance by the Trump administration. In September, more than 16,000 immigrant parents and children were captured by border patrol. This is the worst month on record and almost twice the figures reported before zero tolerance. In the wake of denying asylum claims to those who said they were fleeing gang violence (which is not an internationally recognized reason for granting asylum), there has been a shift in pleas to claims of torture.

For the year, the figures indicate a 38 percent increase over 2017, breaking the record set under the Obama administration in 2016. Overall, Border Patrol captured 396,579 persons, and US Customs and Border Protection officers encountered another 124,511 trying to enter the country through official ports of entry. The overall figures represents a 25 percent increase over 2017 (a bit less than 553,378 in 2016).

Of the 521,090 in 2017, almost one-third were families and another eleven percent were children traveling unaccompanied. The overrepresentation of Central Americans in the figures represents a shift in the trend from last decade when illegal immigrants were predominantly adult males from Mexico. Those numbers were much higher than the present numbers.

The reporting of these numbers comes as a migrant caravan from Honduras, as large as 7,000 persons, makes it way to the United States. This has become an issue in the 2018 mid-term elections, with the Trump Administration painting the caravan as the work of leftist organizations funded in part by the left-wing populist government of Venezuela. 

* * *

A few points with respect to these numbers and the debate over immigration.

I am strongly in favor of following the international convention on refugees and asylum seekers. The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, or the 1951 Refugee Convention (with amendments) defines who is a refugee, delineates the rights of persons granted asylum, as well as the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.

The Convention is rooted in Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 1967 protocol defines a refugee thus:

A person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

The United Nations calls on all countries to respect the right of persons to seek asylum in their jurisdictions. The nations of the world are not obliged to accept immigrants for any reason.

The United States is the most generous nation with respect to immigration, taking in more immigrants than any other nation. The other countries that have been generous are those of European Union, which came to an agreement in June 2018 to ease the pressures and dangers (for example, more than a thousand persons drowned in the Mediterranean Sea during the first half of 2018) caused by migration. Although tens of thousands (from Africa and the Middle East) migrated to Europe during 2018, the numbers are sharply lower than they were in 2015, when a record number of asylum-seekers—about 1.6 million—entered member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

There are approximately 47 million foreign-born people living in the United States: 21 million naturalized US citizens and 26 million noncitizens. Of the latter, approximately 13 million are permanent residents, 11 million are here illegally (although that number is likely higher), and two million hold temporary visas. The number of foreign-born persons in the US has more than quadrupled since 1965. In 1965, foreign-born persons represented 5 percent of the US population. By 2015, they comprised 13.5 percent of the population (this is not much below peak immigration in 1890, when the foreign-born population was around 15 percent of the total population). 

In a June 2017 poll, Gallup found that as many as 37 million people in Latin America desire to relocate to the US permanently. One-third of all Hondurans express a desire to come live in the United States. In total, 150 million people—or 4% of the world’s adult population—would move to the U.S. if they could. If everyone who wanted to move to the U.S. did, the country’s total population would increase by almost 50%.

Of course, not all those who desire to come here have the means to even if the United States opened its borders. Nonetheless, one concern is that if the caravan is allowed entry to the United States, it will signal to Hondurans and other Central Americans the possibility of migrating to the United States. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants will stress neighboring countries. The journey is fraught with hazards: human trafficking, the elements, hunger and thirst. 

Once in the United States, immigration powerfully affects the life-chances of native and naturalized workers. Immigration redistributes wealth from those who compete with immigrants to those who use immigrants—from the employee to the employer. For the working class as a whole, the presence of immigrant labor results in the transfer of half a trillion dollars from the working class to the capitalist class every year, disproportionately impacting those workers with lower skill levels. The winners of this massive transfer are capitalist firms, who pay significantly less in labor costs, and immigrants, who could not command the same level of pay or enjoy the same living conditions in their home countries. Moreover, immigrants utilize government assistance at higher rates than native-born workers, yet pay less in taxes, in part because they have lower earnings, and, in the case of illegal immigration, pay little to no property, payroll, and income taxes. This means that every year a multi-billion-dollar burden is placed upon the shoulders of the native-born population in addition to the loss of income via the wage differential.

While there are rational concerns about immigration policy, without qualification, Trump’s characterization of immigrants from Mexico and Central America as “rapists” steers uncomfortably close to the past notion that black and brown men represent a sexual threat to white women. Polls show that that around six percent of the US population now identifies with far right ideology. That translates to more than 19 million people who express far right ideas. This is a trend we see in the West and it is dangerous. 

Trump’s claim that there are “Middle Easterners” among the caravan, while unsubstantiated and highly unlikely, is an attempt to link Arabs to terrorism and crime. Moreover, it links Arabs to Latinos who, to white non-hispanic Americans who have infrequent encounters with either ethnic group, become more prone to harass Latinos and report them to the police. This is not to say that it is okay for white non-hispanic Americans to do this with respect to Arabs, but to point out that the association of Arabs with terrorism has been associated with the harassment of Latinos. Trump should avoid saying these things. 

While those who are here illegally are, granting due process, subject to deportation, raising irrational fear of immigrants causes citizens and law enforcement to target brown people without reasonable suspicion that they are in fact lawbreakers. Persons speaking foreign languages, speaking with accents, listening to certain types of music, or dressing in certain ways are not indications of immigration status. Target individuals for for these reasons is ethnic and racial profiling, a practice that should be outlawed, even when it masquerades as race-neutral policy.

Again, there are good arguments for reforming U.S. immigration policy. But motives that lie beyond these arguments must be called out and actively resisted by those who are dedicated to the ideals of a free and open society that respect individual rights and due process. Indeed, building a consensus around immigration policy that reflects western values of civic nationalism is greatly hampered by the politics of white nationalism. Latino culture—food, music, art, dress—has greatly enhanced U.S. culture. Spanish is the second language of the United States and Latinos are the largest ethnic group in the country. For those concerned about cultural compatibility, Latin culture is Western culture, and one finds support in it for secular law and politics. Latin culture has intermingled with the culture of the United States for centuries, even before the United States existed as a country. Don’t fall for the fear tactics of the white nationalism. Trump should openly reject these politics.  

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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