Washington Witness: Ugly logic behind U.S. immigration policies

Feb 12, 2018 by

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Parts of U.S. immigration policy make no sense unless viewed through the lens of racism.

Tammy Alexander


The current system spends billions of dollars each year to prosecute, detain and deport hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have been in the U.S. for decades and contribute far more to our economy than they consume.

We limit guest-worker visas for farmworkers and other jobs to less than half the demand, even during low unemployment. We lock up people who cross the border in search of jobs or to reunite with families when it would be far more economical and humane to provide better legal avenues for such migration.

Immigration officials round up and deport immigrants with old and minor criminal convictions. This serves no public-safety goal. Politicians portray immigrants as dangerous threats, despite the fact that crime rates are significantly lower for immigrants compared to their U.S.-born counterparts.

The U.S. government is ending Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of longtime residents, costing the economy an estimated $45 billion over 10 years. We are on the brink of deporting nearly 700,000 “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children. Deporting them would cost taxpayers $60 billion and the U.S. economy $200 billion, according to the libertarian Cato Institute. A 2009 Cato study estimated passing a broad immigration reform bill would bring $180 billion in net economic benefits, yet Congress can’t find the will to do so.

Why do policymakers continue to craft laws that are bad for our economy, bad for families and do nothing to improve public safety? The ugly truth is that such policies only make sense if they are motivated by a desire to keep America white.

U.S. immigration policy’s racist underpinnings were laid bare recently when President Trump made vulgar comments about Haiti and Africa while praising immigrants from Norway. He was hardly the first politician to harbor such views. The U.S. has a long history of restricting and maligning immigrants — from Irish Catholics in the 19th century to Chinese in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to, more recently, Latin Americans, Africans and Muslims.

Family immigration laws enacted in the 1960s were created, in part, to ensure more migration from European countries. Now that those same laws allow non-European immigrants to bring family members, they are under attack as “chain migration.”

In Lev. 19:34, God instructs us to remember that God’s people were once migrants in Egypt and that we should love the migrants among us as we love ourselves.

Each of us should consider whether our attitude toward immigrants might be clouded by racial prejudice or be influenced by the racist motivations of others.

We should continue to call out policymakers when they are clearly motivated by bigotry.

Immigrants in our communities are teachers and health-care workers. They help put food on our tables and care for the youngest and oldest members of our society. They start businesses and create jobs.

Logically, the U.S. should welcome more immigrants. Unfortunately, the ugly logic of racism still underpins many laws and policy debates.

Tammy Alexander is senior legislative associate in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.

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