Hours after the mass shooting in an El Paso, Texas Walmart, the American public learned of the shooting suspect’s hate-filled manifesto. Phrases like “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and “race mixing” described the alleged shooter’s apparent motive for the massacre that killed at least 20 people and injured 26 more. Posted online, the manifesto is an example of the toxic anti-immigrant wave that has been sweeping America during the past 20 years. Too often, the result is senseless violence and death.
Harassment of Immigrants
In our San Francisco law office, we have received phone calls in recent months from people who are afraid that ICE will discover their undocumented status. Clients recall instances of harassment and accusations that they are taking jobs away from Americans. Another client was told that the government was offering rewards to people who report undocumented immigrants. We have no evidence that the government is offering such a reward.
Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act
Much of the current anti-immigrant climate can be traced back to the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IRRAIRA) of 1996. Enacted during a time of increased illegal immigration, the IRRAIRA made it easier to deport both undocumented and documented immigrants who break the law while in the United States. Many of the crimes that trigger deportation are nonviolent. Even an immigrant with a green card could be deported just for committing a misdemeanor such as shoplifting or DUI.
The IRRAIRA puts severe roadblocks in the way of an immigrant who wants to return to the United States after deportation. For example, an immigrant who is unlawfully in the United States for 365 days or more may not re-enter the United States for ten years without a waiver. The result of the law was to make it more difficult and stressful for immigrants to stay in the United States. Deportations rose from 70,000 a year in 1996 to 400,000 a year while Obama was President, according to Vox.
Myths About Immigrants Taking From Americans
Much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that we hear focuses on the fear that immigrants take jobs and benefits away from Americans. According to the current scarcity mentality, welcoming immigrants and their families results in fewer jobs and less aid for Americans. That belief is reflected in warnings about “Hispanic invasions” and other hateful rumors.
The facts, however, show that these fears are unfounded. An article in The Atlantic notes that immigrants work hard, pay taxes and actually strengthen the economy. When lower income immigrants receive aid from social programs, they are able to spend more money in their communities, find better jobs and contribute to the economy. Immigrants — legal or not — help increase city, state and federal revenue by paying taxes.
Embracing Cultural Diversity From Immigration
A bright side to immigration is the cultural diversity and new ideas immigrants bring to this country. Some immigrant children go on to Ivy League schools and contribute their skills, such as engineering, to our economy. Many become entrepreneurs who create jobs and provide important services. We are all enriched when artists from other countries bring their talents to the United States.
There are approximately 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. For years, government leaders have struggled to develop an effective immigration policy. Disgruntled Americans, looking for someone to blame during uncertain times, convince themselves that immigrants are taking jobs and finite resources and causing health care costs increase. It is a shame that immigrants are targeted by unfounded fears, suspicions and hatred.
It is just as easy — and more reasonable — to welcome immigrants as people who have much to offer society. We can choose to remember that America was built by immigrants. Diversity has always been our strength. The scarcity mentality need not overtake our thinking about immigration to America.