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Economic Uncertainty Fuels Anti-Immigrant Fervor

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Economic Uncertainty Fuels Anti-Immigrant Fervor

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement after the Supreme Court left in place a lower court ruling blocking his plan to spare millions of illegal immigrants from deportation and give them work permits at the White House in Washington

Perhaps humans are destined by dint of our primal instincts to forever fear the other, to revolt continually against living peacefully in close proximity to those whose skin is a different hue, whose language lends a different sound, whose gods go by different names. Maybe there is no antidote for the evolutionary proclivity to distrust those who don’t look or sound like us.

But it is certainly true that those instincts would be less volatile if they were not continuously stoked and primed by pandering and opportunistic politicians. From the United States to Great Britain to Austria, politicians have found advantage in fueling a dangerous xenophobia that blames immigrants for every lost job, every bad debt, every savage crime.

It was into that climate that the U.S. Supreme Court disgorged its decision overturning President Barack Obama’s temporary reprieve for several million undocumented immigrants. (The vote was a deadlocked 4-4, but its effect was to allow a lower court ruling against the president to stand.) The subject of immigration has been a dominant theme in this
unruly election season. The high court’s action will only serve to make it more incendiary.

In Great Britain, reckless politicians have already ridden anti-immigration fervor to a regrettable vote to leave the European Union, promising, among other things, that the flow of foreign workers would be slowed to a trickle. Here at home, Donald Trump has established himself atop the Republican Party with a campaign of nationalism and unabashed xenophobia. He has branded Mexicans as criminals; he has promised to wall off the southern border of the United States; and he has pledged to bar many, if not all, Muslims from entry.

That’s too bad. The simple truth is that native populations need the industry, the vitality and the ambition of immigrants. The United States, particularly, has a history of accommodating immigrants and assimilating them into the cultural and economic mainstream. Trump’s white working-class supporters hail from immigrant ancestors.

Much of the population of 11 million or so who live among us without papers is trying hard to assimilate: They work, they pay taxes, they even buy homes. They join churches and community organizations. They send their children to school.

Those who came to this country as children usually speak English fluently and consider themselves Americans. Obama’s 2012 executive order targeting the so-called Dreamers, who came to this country without papers before they turned 16, was not voided by the court. It allows about 750,000 young adults without papers to obtain driver’s licenses, to work and to attend college.

Research shows that the benefits immigrants bestow on this country, even those who are here illegally, are greater than the cost of absorbing them. Unskilled laborers may contribute to a depression in wages for native workers, but the effect is slight. They are not the leading cause of wage stagnation or job loss.

Still, the economic uncertainty of our time has made many American-born workers much more suspicious of competition from foreign-born laborers. Those who have suffered job losses, stagnating wages and disappearing savings accounts are looking for scapegoats, and immigrants are easy to blame.

They are also angry about something else: the loss of power and privilege inherent in changing demographics. By the year 2040, as the nation grows browner, white Americans will no longer constitute a numerical majority. Those simple statistics have fueled a furious backlash.

Indeed, the struggle over cultural identity has been the thematic music, the background noise, of Obama’s tenure. He assumed the Oval Office not just as the first black president but also as a harbinger of a much more diverse nation. It’s an accident of fate that Obama’s father came to this country from Kenya on a student visa, hinting of the wave of globalization to come. It’s no wonder that immigration has been among the most volatile issues of his presidency.

It didn’t have to come to this. As recently as the presidency of George W. Bush, Republican elites supported a strategy for giving legal status to undocumented immigrants. But a vicious opposition from the grassroots scared them into a reversal. They didn’t try to lead. They dropped their principles and ran to get ahead of their constituents.

They’re still running. They lack a trait less common than the primal instincts of fear and resentment: courage.

Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement after the Supreme Court left in place a lower court ruling blocking his plan to spare millions of illegal immigrants from deportation and give them work permits at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria 

Cynthia Tucker Haynes

Cynthia Tucker Haynes, a veteran newspaper journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a Visiting Professor of Journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Georgia. She is also a highly-regarded commentator on TV and radio news shows.

Haynes was editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for 17 years, where she led the development of opinion policy. More recently, she was that newspaper’s Washington-based political columnist. She maintains a syndicated column through Universal Press Syndicate, which is published in dozens of newspapers around the country. Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007, Haynes has also received numerous other awards, including Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists.

  • 1


    1. JPHALL July 1, 2016

      You have anything more recent? I doubt it since those gang bangers went to prison. And that was more drug pushing related than racial. Money makes the world go around!

      1. Teresalrichardson3 July 2, 2016


      2. itsfun July 2, 2016

        Money also makes corrupt politicians

        1. JPHALL July 2, 2016

          WOW! You just figured that out all by yourself? You right wingers are so silly. Subject: Re: Comment on Economic Uncertainty Fuels Anti-Immigrant Fervor

          1. itsfun July 2, 2016

            not everyone can be as smart as you are or is that not everybody is a smart ass.

          2. JPHALL July 2, 2016

            Neither smarter nor a smart ass, just not ideological!

            Subject: Re: Comment on Economic Uncertainty Fuels Anti-Immigrant Fervor

          3. itsfun July 3, 2016

            So that gives you the right to name call or try to make people feel small?

          4. JPHALL July 3, 2016

            Poor baby. Get some real information, then people cannot make you feel intellectual small. Stop pushing ideology! Subject: Re: Comment on Economic Uncertainty Fuels Anti-Immigrant Fervor

          5. itsfun July 4, 2016

            you aren’t capable of making me feel small or bad. Actually you can’t make me feel anything. I will push anything I please! Have you ever head of freedom of speech? I know many on the left only believe in freedom of speech for those that agree with them, while they are preaching tolerance. I hope you are not one of them.

          6. JPHALL July 4, 2016

            Like everything else in life speech isn’t free. It has a cost. And you get to feel that by being put down for being stupid. You only complain and whine. Enjoy being an ignorant loser looking for attention. Subject: Re: Comment on Economic Uncertainty Fuels Anti-Immigrant Fervor

          7. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 17, 2016

            No one has to make you feel small—you’re doing a great job on your own w/o any help from others.

          8. itsfun July 17, 2016

            Like I said, I will post anything I want. You and your comments mean almost nothing to me. They show your ignorance and how much of a horses as_ you are.

          9. JPHALL July 17, 2016

            But why reply and appear stupid?Don’t you have better things to do? I do! I love embarrassing idiots like you and Otto!

          10. itsfun July 18, 2016

            If you don’t like what I post, don’t read my posts. You haven’t embarrassed me ever. You may think so, but you haven’t and never will. You just can’t stand it when someone doesn’t agree with you or kiss your hind end. You are just another example of the no tolerance except when people agree with you. You are the idiot here.

          11. JPHALL July 18, 2016

            Goodbye loser!
            Subject: Re: Comment on Economic Uncertainty Fuels Anti-Immigrant Fervor

          12. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 17, 2016

            There’s a vast difference between being intelligent and a smart-ass—the former is motivated to share insights to start a dispassionate discourse, tempered by a measure of humility, that are a product of taking time to reflect, whereas the smart ass wants to score points and exult over another by blurting out the first visceral emotion that pops up in his head.

            Which one are you?

          13. itsfun July 17, 2016

            Neither, I may be wrong about you though, Instead of a smart ass maybe you are a horse’s as_

          14. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 17, 2016

            I too am surprised by the glimmer of smarts which itsfun was able to flash for a moment.

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  2. Dominick Vila July 2, 2016

    The anti-immigration sentiments that are spreading worldwide are, indeed, fueled by relentless xenophobic propaganda being used by those whose decisions accelerated and aggravated the unemployment problems experienced in so many parts of the world. Sadly, immigration is probably the least of many factors contributing to unemployment and under employment.
    The emergence of robotics and other high tech resources have displaced millions of workers worldwide, and the situation is likely to get worse in the coming years. Corporate greed, manifested in an exclusive focus on high returns on investment for shareholders, and lavish salaries and benefits for CEOs, while ignoring the people who do the work that allows corporations to post astronomical profits, contributes to under employment and unemployment a lot more than immigration does. The fact that most of our unemployed do not qualify for the well paid high tech jobs, that are currently going to foreign professionals entering the USA with H1b visas, has a lot more to do with our failure as a society to motivate our young, and the high cost of a college education in the USA, than it does with immigration from Mexico and Central America. Last, but not least, is a change of attitudes. Millions of Americans prefer to order items from Amazon or eBay, and have them delivered to their doorsteps rather than going to a Mall.
    Instead of facile, and often inaccurate, conclusions we must analyze the reasons for the problems we are having, reflect on the reasons for our shortcomings, and take steps to solve them. In the interim, investment in infrastructure, and efforts to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels as a result of global warming, would provide relief for millions of Americans currently struggling to make ends meet.

    1. itsfun July 2, 2016

      How about employing our folks that are unqualified for higher paying jobs by hiring them as trainees for the higher paying jobs, instead of importing immigrants.

      1. Dominick Vila July 2, 2016

        Most high tech companies will not hire high school graduates, without an elementary knowledge of the skills they require, to work in fields such as computer science, engineering, physics, chemistry, mathematics, or as assistant college professors. Most importantly, there is nothing the Federal or State government can do to change that trend, other than offer funding for retraining and fields more commensurate with their skill levels.

        1. itsfun July 2, 2016

          First maybe the state and federal governments should fund something like that. My plan would be to hire people on welfare, if they refused a job, they would lose welfare immediately. The state or fed would hire for a period of 1 year with no lose of benefits, the salary would be minimum wage, and the gov would furnish child care. If private organizations wanted to try this, then the government would handle the minimum wage salary for a period of up to one year. If the person quit during the one year period, they would lose their benefits also. After one year the person would have earned a government certificate or some form of achievement that certified they meet the minimum requirements for an entry level job in that field. If the person just can’t learn the skills and is trying, then they wouldn’t lose their welfare benefits. They may even be able to get a job in another field, since some employers just want to know a person can and will learn and work. At the least people would learn what it takes to earn and keep a job.

          1. Dominick Vila July 2, 2016

            Sounds like a good plan. Unfortunately, the emphasis in Congress is on reducing spending, not increasing it. Investment in infrastructure would create a lot of jobs, most of them well above minimum wage. It would have the added benefit of repairing and modernizing our infrastructure. Sadly, our elected officials seem to put more emphasis on political strategies than what is best for the country.

        2. PatrickHenry July 3, 2016

          There are many American STEM workers unemployed, yet our Government continues to let enter many foreign workers, but at lower wages.

          We also have water shortages, finite natural resources, as well as stricter CAFE standards, but with rapidly increasing population, these problems will only worsen, also creating even more dependence on foreign oil. With Millions more autos driving, the increase in CAFE standards are nulified, plus energy usage.

          1. Dominick Vila July 4, 2016

            We are not growing is fast as you think. Our fertility rate is too low, and our population is aging.

          2. PatrickHenry July 4, 2016

            The fertility rate in general is a bit low, but the number of people entering the U.S. is higher than necessary needed for employment. Many newer immigrants are young & also high birth rates. The U.S. has grown very rapidly, now at 322 Million, 3rd. highest in the World. We are projected to have a population of 438 Million by 2050, not very good news.

  3. Gary July 2, 2016

    I am an immigrant and refugee. Ms. Tucker Haynes seems to conveniently forget that US law calls immigrants “legal aliens”. The real culprit here is money. People who think foreign nationals should be able to enter the country illegally at will have a financial motive.

  4. PatrickHenry July 3, 2016

    There are many reasons why Americans & some European countries want immigration & migration slowed & Illegal immigration stopped, & xenophobia has absolutely nothing to do with it. For one thing, the high & long-lasting unemployment is from not only terrible economic policies, but by Millions of Immigrants taking those jobs. There is also the tremendous cost in health care, education, welfare, & crime caused by excessive immigration. This article mentions Millions of Immigrants want to assimilate, but they are lumping Legal Immigrants that assimilate, & Illegal immigrants that largely do not.

  5. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 17, 2016

    The author correctly points out that the two primary engines of hostility towards immigrants are: A primal fear of “the other”; and a conscious effort by Conservative forces hell-bent on maintaining a status quo by fanning the flames of hate and anger.

    Since more and more Americans are losing touch with a powerful emotion of empathy, and show a disdain for showing consideration for others if it doesn’t benefit their bottom line.

    By being so focused on what benefits the individual first, followed(maybe) by consideration of others as illustrated most visibly in the person of Trump, we see the ongoing dissociation from Christian ideals by those who profess to be Christian. By failing to demonstrate in deeds and attitudes what their mouths profess, the very essence of hypocrisy is laid bare for the rest of the world to see.

    Only one way to change this trend, and it starts with investigating Baha’u’llah’s Message—a Revelation specifically unveiled to address the unique problems of this era which exceed in urgency and scope the exigencies of the past.

    “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded.


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