Last week President Donald Trump signed anti-immigrant executive orders. His orders included: the construction of a wall between Mexico and the United States, a stripping of federal funds from cities that do not cooperate with federal authorities to arrest or detain undocumented immigrants and a ban on refugee immigrants from seven Muslim countries.
He justified these orders by arguing that it would ensure safe communities and save “thousands of lives, millions of jobs and billions and billion of dollars.” Additionally, Donald Trump announced that his administration will publish a weekly list of “criminal actions” committed by immigrants. His order does not specify that only crimes committed by undocumented immigrants would be published and this makes it possible for offenses committed by any immigrant to be included. President Trump’s attack on immigrants could not be more misguided.
Deporting immigrants would not reduce violent crime or save money. President Trump disregards the fact that an overwhelming majority of immigrants contribute to our society with their labor and that this has helped make the United States a prosperous nation. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2014 there were approximately 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Collectively they contribute 12 billion dollars in taxes a year. Most importantly, as the American Immigration Council states, innumerable studies show that “immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars” than native U.S. citizens. This is true for both undocumented and documented immigrants. In 2010 for example, the American Community Survey found that roughly 1.6 % of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated compared to 3.3 % of native-born citizens. More specifically, less educated native born men age 18-39 had an incarceration rate of 10.7% which was triple the 2.8% rate among foreign born Mexican men, and five times greater than the 1.7% rate among foreign born men from Guatemala and Salvador. As such, an overwhelming majority of immigrants are not “criminals” based on the common definition of the term. Therefore, harsh immigration policies will not be effective in fighting crime because the rate of crime in immigrant communities is already lower than the crime committed by native-born citizens.
Accordingly, it is time that we stop stereotyping immigrants, especially those who lack legal status in our country, as criminals who do not contribute to society. Such stereotypes are not only inaccurate but they serve to dehumanize and scapegoat a community that, despite not being able to exercise its full political voice and therefore benefit from the protections of our country, still contributes greatly to our society.
Additionally, President Trump’s plan to build a wall between Mexico and the United States is not the answer to unregulated migration from the south. Such a plan is financially unfeasible because it will cost upwards of 15 billion dollars in tax payer money. Mexico’s president Peña Nieto has continuously stated that Mexico will not pay for it. President Trump has suggested that Mexico’s products will be taxed at a higher rate to cover the cost of the wall. If that happens, it will be consumers in the United States who will bear the burden of covering the price of the wall. The higher tax on Mexican products will affect everyone, especially when 69% of the imported fresh veggies come from Mexico.
More importantly however, building a wall will not stop unregulated migration because such a method ignores the root causes of the problem. Trump’s anti-immigrant sentiment does not take into account how U.S. interventions in South America led millions to migrate into this country. Most Latin American people immigrate from the South due to poverty, political instability and recurring financial crisis. Many of these problems were created or exacerbated by the United States government. Throughout history, the United States has repeatedly made the life of Latin American countries difficult by overthrowing democratically elected governments, and pushing for economic policies that undermined Latin American economies. For example, just as recently as 1973, the United States government helped overthrow Salvador Allende, a democratically elected president in Chile, facilitating the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who killed and tortured thousands of Chileans. Further, the United States invaded and occupied Nicaragua from 1912-1930, and in 1979 the U.S. government funded a rightwing group known as the “Contras” to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. The “Contras” were known, among other atrocities, for using terrorist tactics and for smuggling drugs into the United States. In 1976, the United States backed a military dictatorship in Argentina which killed 30,000 people. Further, U.S. trade policies such as NAFTA prompted millions of low wage workers to abandon Mexico and migrate to America.
It is time for this country to envision a progressive immigration agenda, one that does not dehumanize immigrants and blame them for the problems of our society. From its inception this nation was founded by immigrants. How hypocritical is it then that the current administration rejects the recent wave of immigrants despite their contributions to our country? Moreover, how is it that this administration is willing to put the lives of refugee immigrants on the line by banning their entry from war-torn nations like Syria and Yemen where civilians are being bombed and children are being starved? How is it that this administration is willing to leave behind the many men and women in Iraq who helped the U.S. government in their operations there by working as translators and contractors and now, because of this, they face persecution and their lives are at risk?
It is time that we demand more humane immigration policies. We have to show the current government that the lives of immigrant communities matter. That we will not stand for their criminalization or their ban. As Martin Niemoller reflected in post war Germany, “first they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist...Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Therefore, let us not be silent and normalize the persecution of immigrant communities. We have to protect the rights of immigrants because united we stand strong while being silent legitimizes the side of the oppressor.
Let’s raise our voices loud and clear to say that immigrant rights ought to be respected and that refugees are welcome here. Lets seek to build bridges that unite us and not walls that separate us.
Ana Guillcatanda is an activist for immigration reform and workers rights. She is currently a law student and Community Director with the Liberal Party of New York.