Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How the Anti Immigrant sentiment grew before and after the Immigration debate ended up in wrong hands.

Right-wing anti-immigration groups have placed the 1965 Immigration Act at the center of a campaign to promote anti-immigrant sentiment in the 1980s and 1990s.
In the 1965 Act, Congress repudiated the infamous 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, which followed 1920s-era legislation in parceling out immigrants' visas based on country of origin. Under the banner of humanitarian values, Congress decided to allocate visas primarily on the grounds of kinship.

The 1965 law states that 20 percent of all numerically restricted visas will be allocated for skilled workers and 6 percent for refugees, with the remainder split among various family-oriented preference categories. Importantly, spouses, dependent children, and parents of US citizens were exempted from any numerical limits. It is this provision that particularly drew the wrath of the right.

In the 1980s, anti-immigrant sentiment grew during the debate over immigration reform. Supporters of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 argued that immigrants were stealing jobs and draining the economy, and that political turmoil in Mexico and Central America would spill over into the US. Defenders of immigrants argued that immigrants are, in fact, a positive force in the American workforce and that the US is historically a nation of immigrants.

The final law, authored by Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming) and Representative Romano Mazzoli (D-Kentucky), and promoted by the Reagan White House, was intended to shut the door on the further flow of illegal immigrants, while ostensibly supporting immigrants by offering "legalized" status to undocumented immigrants already in the US.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act contains sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants and includes provisions for "guest workers" who are allowed to work in the US, but are denied rights or benefits. (The "guest worker" provisions were touted by Pete Wilson, then a Senator from California.)

Although many immigrants entered the legal citizenship process, despite significant obstacles, the law laid the basis for the current debate over how to effectively seal the border. Further, the guest worker program has contributed to the flow of immigrant workers to the US who have no possibility of becoming citizens.

The most recent piece of major legislation on the issue, the Immigration Act of 1990, reaffirmed the centrality of family reunification, which has been the touchstone of US immigration policy since 1965. However, the concept of family reunification is now under attack.

Rightists Fund Anti-Immigrant Groups

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is directly tied to more virulent racists by the funding it has received from the Pioneer Fund. Between 1985 and 1989, the Pioneer Fund provided eight grants totaling $295,000 to FAIR, and three grants totaling $80,000 to the American Immigration Control Foundation.
Pioneer Fund documents indicate that FAIR received another $150,000 in 1992, making it the largest recipient of Pioneer grants that year. And FAIR clearly has no qualms about receiving such funding. The Pioneer Fund also funded much of the research behind the book The Bell Curve

It is also of note that heiress Cordelia Scaife May supports FAIR, US English, the Center for Immigration Studies, and others to the tune of $2.5 million. May's political agenda is made clearer by her foundation's underwriting in 1983 of the distribution of The Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail, a book in which immigrants from the Third World invade Europe and destroy its civilization.

Raspail's novel was the emotional touchstone for a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly titled "Must It Be the Rest Against the West?" in which the authors ultimately propose rather pragmatic solutions in response to the global division between rich and poor that they perceive as "dwarf[ing] every other issue in global affairs."

The Atlantic Monthly article quotes directly from The Camp of the Saints, a copy of which they obtained from the American Immigration Control Foundation. It is instructive to read even a short passage from that book. It describes the masses threatening the white, and naturally civilized world as:

"All the kinky-haired, swarthy-skinned, long-despised phantoms; all the teeming ants toiling for the white man's comfort; all the swill men and sweepers, the troglodytes, the stinking drudges, the swivel-hipped menials, the womenless wretches, the lung-spewing hackers. . . ."

These "five billion growling human beings" are threatening the "seven hundred million whites."

Immigration, Today & Yesterday

Today there is a tendency to revise history, to extol the virtues of past immigration, specifically that which includes our ancestors, while saying that now the country is full and can hold no more. But as we have seen, the pattern of resistance to immigration was, if anything, more severe during earlier waves of arrivals. Indeed immigration today does not equal, in absolute numbers, the peak of entries around 1910. And immigration as immigrants per 1,000 residents of the US (the rate) is several times lower than at any time during the period 1850-1930.

Anti-immigrant groups have had to endorse historical immigration because the vast majority of non-native US citizens are descended from immigrants. What they do not state directly, but imply in cleverly constructed arguments, is the one thing that clearly is different today. In 1900, 85 percent of immigrants came from Europe (only 2.5 percent came from Latin America and Asia combined). In 1990, Latin and Asian immigrants accounted for more than two-thirds of all immigrants. Indeed, the population of Hispanics in the US is projected to reach 80 million by the middle of the next century, while the Asian population will rise to about 40 million.

The US has been a majority-white country and immigrant labor in the early part of this century was white, although, as we have seen, ethnic, national, and religious distinctions were critical in that time as the basis for defining immigrants as different, inferior morally and intellectually and, thus, threatening. The current influx from Third World countries faces the added dimension of race, a powerful factor throughout US history. Thus the current sentiment is as much the political twin of the racist history of exclusion of the Chinese as it is the resistance to white immigration.

The recent US military action in Haiti is yet another sign of the depth of impact that race has on immigration policy. Haitian immigrants have been widely and falsely disparaged as bringing AIDS into the US. President Clinton, however, promised fair treatment for Haitian refugees during his campaign, only to renege on that promise once in office. When intense economic sanctions failed to force the Haitian military junta out and the flow of boat people continued, pressure mounted to do something and Clinton sent in the troops. In the process, the issue of halting immigration of poor black people was elevated to the level of national security.

The Message of the Right Wing

Dan Stein, Executive Director of FAIR, writes that a public consensus has emerged "in the face of Haitian boats, the World Trade Center bombing, Chinese boats, international immigrant-smuggling and crime syndicates, persistent illegal immigration from Mexico and high profile tales of immigrant-related welfare rip-offs." Stein states that in the face of this assault we need to cut the total number of immigrants, legal and illegal: "the country needs a break to absorb and handle its critical social and internal problems. . . .We have to limit immigration significantly to preserve the nation."

In its advertisements in mainstream magazines, FAIR claims that "nowhere are the effects of out-of-control immigration more acutely felt than in the labor market. The original intent of our nation's immigration laws. . .was to protect the American Worker." In their mailings, FAIR plays on fears by telling a story of Mexicans crossing the US border "with the sole intention of having a child who is automatically an American citizen." In a brochure, FAIR writes:

"Today's challenges are very different from those faced by earlier generations. We no longer have a vast frontier to tame. In fact, we must protect shrinking forests, wetlands and farm lands. . . .We no longer need to encourage an influx of new workers as we did to fuel the industrial revolution."

Overall, the message of the anti-immigrant forces is that things have changed. At one time immigration was a good thing for this country, but no more. There is, in this view, no longer enough to go around and immigrants are cutting into the share of what could be had by good patriotic Americans.

Furthermore, anti-immigrant advocates raise the specter of new immigrants failing to assimilate and forcing their culture on everyone else--a prospect that, they argue, could lead to separatist scenarios like the disaster in what was once Yugoslavia.

For instance, Chronicles, a rightist monthly cultural magazine, devoted its June 1993 issue to the subject of cultural breakdown in the US resulting from immigration.
The cover, a cartoon depiction of the Statue of Liberty, features immigrant characters (with pointed ears to indicate their demon status) clawing their way to the top of the statue, whose face is grimacing in pain and alarm.

The thrust of the article is the dual threat of cultural adulteration of the Anglo-Saxon American heritage and the overwhelming inferiority of Third World alternative cultures. Feature writer Thomas Fleming writes, "Arab and Pakistani terrorists, Nigerian con artists, Oriental and South American drug lords, Russian gangsters--all are introducing their particular brands of cultural enrichment into an already fragmented United States that increasingly resembles Bosnia more than the America I grew up in." This message pervades not just right-wing anti-immigrant rhetoric, but the mainstream media and the rhetoric of both political parties.

Know Public Opinion is Against Immigrants

Today public opinion has been swayed by such arguments and the enormous access that anti-immigrant organizations have to the national media. A Business Week/Harris Poll in 1992 found that while 59 percent of those surveyed thought immigration has been good for the US historically, 69 percent of non-blacks and 53 percent of blacks thought present-day immigration was bad. Among the reasons cited were taking jobs away from American workers (60 percent) and using more than their fair share of government services (about 60 percent). black views may be prompted by different reasons than those of whites, since it is likely that blacks are resentful of the success of recent immigrants appearing to overtake them economically, while whites see immigrants threatening what they already have.

There is a clear lack of a sense of the history of immigration in the current out-cry. Nothing so exemplifies the lack of historical connection as a story in the Boston Globe New Hampshire Edition, headlined "Son of Immigrants Offers English Bill." The legislation offered by Bernard Raynowska, a state representative from New Hampshire and of Lithuanian descent, would restrict the state's use of bilingual ballots or forms. While Raynowska's father came up the hard way after immigrating, his son now feels, "[i]n the year 2000 we're all going to be speaking Spanish, dressing Spanish [sic] and eating Spanish food." A letter to the editor in the November 10, 1991 Tampa Times echoes that sentiment when the writer recalls, through rose-colored glasses, his experience with immigrants in an earlier era. "There was no special consideration given those people, and their children required little time to become proficient in English."

What are the actual statistics to back up this anti-immigrant rhetoric? In fact, less than 1.5 percent of the US population is undocumented, according to the US Census. One quarter of immigrants in the US are undocumented. Most of these do not sneak across the border, but arrive legally and stay beyond the expiration of their visas. Only one-third of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico.

Nothing is as fiercely contested or as wildly divergent in their conclusions as studies on the impact of immigration on the economy. Anti-immigrant organizations point to a study by Dr. Donald Huddle that shows that immigrants cost the US $44 billion more than they contributed in 1993.

Immigrant advocates point to the Urban Institute study that shows that immigrants contributed from $25 to $35 billion more than they took out in 1992. A study by Los Angeles County found that immigrants cost the county almost $1 billion, but give back four times that amount in taxes. The problem, however, for Los Angeles County is that the taxes go to the federal government instead of the county. Business Week estimated that immigrants pay $70.3 billion in taxes annually and receive $5 billion in welfare benefits, and another $11.5 billion in primary and secondary education benefits.

The Urban Institute reviewed a number of contemporary studies that "document" the draining effect of immigrants on the US economy in order to find underlying biases. They found that the studies vary in quality, but "the results invariably overstate the negative impact of immigrants for the following reasons:

1) they systematically understate tax collections from immigrants,
2) they systematically overstate service costs for immigrants,
3) none credit immigrants for the impact of immigrant-owned businesses or the full economic benefit generated by consumer spending from immigrants,
4) job displacement impact and costs are overstated,
5) they omit the fact that parallel computations for natives show natives use more in services than they pay in taxes too, and
6) the size of the immigrant population--particularly the undocumented immigrant population--tends to be overstated."

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