Why is our “Nation of Immigrants” so Anti-Immigrant Today?

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty. by Derek Jensen (Tysto), 2004-September-26 {{cc-by-2.0}}

You’ve heard it before. The United States is a “nation of immigrants.” People from around the world have come to the United States in search of economic opportunity, freedom from persecution, and the “American Dream.” For the most part, we celebrate our immigrant heritage in our monuments, our popular culture, our family history projects, and our national identity.

But, there’s no doubt about it, Americans are in a vehemently anti-immigrant mood today.

Most recently, Republican party presidential candidate Donald Trump created a firestorm when he made his now well-known remarks on Mexican immigration: “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

In the wake of his comments, a number of businesses stopped doing business with Trump, including Macy’s, NBC, ESPN, NASCAR, and the PGA. Trump’s fellow Republicans have called on him to tone down his remarks. 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who co-sponsored comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the Senate in 2013, accused Trump of firing “up the crazies.”

But as of this writing, Trump leads the polls.

What explains our anti-immigrant mood?

  • Is it purely an issue of numbers — that Americans think we’re admitting too many immigrants?
  • Is it about the economy — that immigrants take away jobs and are drains on our economy and public services?
  • Is it about assimilation and preserving some type of unified “American” culture?
  • The majority of new immigrants are from Latin America and Asia. Is our anti-immigrant mood tied to our own racial and ethnic biases? Would we be less anti-immigrant if the majority of new immigrants were from Europe?

How can we get past the name-calling, racist and inflammatory remarks, and media hype to better understand how and why we’re so divided over immigration today and how we might move past these differences to create a more inclusive and equitable America?

Let’s start a conversation.

What are your own experiences with America’s anti-immigration culture? Why do you think we’re in an anti-immigrant mood? Respond here and connect on Twitter @prof_erikalee.