No Longer a ‘Nation of Immigrants’?
Since its founding, the United States has been a nation of immigrants. Before 1492, the land on which the United States was built was comprised entirely of Native Americans. Now ethnic natives are only 2% of the population, meaning most people who live in the United States today have an ancestor who immigrated to the land (US Census Bureau). In February, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the US, changed its mission statement to remove the phrase “nation of immigrants,” (Miriam, 2018). This change in the mission statement supports a system of rhetoric that hurts immigrants, an attempt to ignore the country’s past.
Its old mission statement said, “U.S.C.I.S. secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system,” (Jordan, 2018). This mission statement reflects the attitude of an open, welcoming nation. The word “promise” in describing the US as a nation of immigrants indicates that the country is committed to accepting new immigrants, reassuring that immigrants are welcome in the United States. The purpose of the U.S.C.I.S. is to oversee lawful immigration; it is separate from I.C.E, which is meant to enforce customs and immigration laws, and C.B.P., which is in charge of enforcing border laws and facilitating lawful travel and trade. The U.C.I.S’s old mission statement fit its purpose as the organization in charge of accepting immigrants, not enforcing laws preventing them from entering.
The United States has characterized itself as a “nation of immigrants” for years. The phrase was popularized by President John F. Kennedy to highlight the contributions of immigrants when the nation was in a debate over immigration policy. Although Kennedy made this phrase popular, it was first used in politics in the nineteenth century. In 1874 The Daily State Journal of Alexandria applauded a bill passed by the Virginia senate that encouraged European immigration. The editorial said, “we are a nation of immigrants and immigrants’ children,” (Miriam, 2018). The historical use of this phrase shows that the people of the United States have viewed the country this way for years. The phrase “nation of immigrants” reflects the nature of the United States. The majority of the US population, those not included in the 2% Native American population, either immigrated here or has an ancestor who immigrated here at least within the past 500 years, which is relatively recent in historical context. Now the culture of this country is influenced by a plethora of other cultures, and there are very few people who can claim this is their territory for ethnic reasons. Any argument against new immigrants claiming “we were here first” fails to recognize the nation’s past.
Although, most people who live here now are not current immigrants, the nation was founded by immigrants and continues to be influenced by other cultures (US Census Bureau).
The director of U.S.C.I.S., L. Francis Cissna, who was appointed by President Trump, announced that the changed mission statement was meant to be a straightforward statement that “clearly defines the agency’s role in our country’s lawful immigration system and the commitment we have to the American people,” (Jordan, 2018). The new mission statement says: “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland and honoring our values,” (U.C.I.S.). This new statement is much less welcoming than the last. It puts a stress on protecting current “Americans”, a theme prominent in the new presidential administration. Moreover, the statement says “honoring our values,” indicating that immigrants might not do so. This shift in the mission statement reflects the increasingly negative attitude towards immigrants in the United States.
Altering the mission statement for the organization in charge of accepting immigrants and granting citizenship has implications that go beyond just one organization. It signifies a transformation in the way the United States treats immigration. President Trump has promoted a hateful attitude towards immigrants, particularly Mexicans and Muslims, since he first announced his desire to run for presidency. He has implemented travel bans for six Muslim-majority countries, increased deportations of undocumented workers, and ended deportation protections for those fleeing wars and natural disasters (Anderson, 2018). His infamous claim that Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs,” “bringing crime,” and were “rapists,” (Tierney, 2016), presented a spiteful attitude towards a group of people who already experiences discrimination. During his campaign, he released an ad saying “BUILD THE WALL,” “DEPORT CRIMINALS,” and “STOP ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION,” (KCRA News). The ad references a murderer who had immigrated to the country illegally, associating all illegal immigrants with one unhinged murderer. Stereotypes Trump has encouraged rampant xenophobia that has transformed into simple racism and discourage his supporters from actually giving thought to the issue. In January, a group of Trump supporters gathered at a rally in Arizona to protest illegal immigration. A band of the ralliers called several dark-skinned lawmakers, legislative staffers, and even children “illegals,” and chanted, “go home” (Francis, 2018). One of the people they singled out was Eric Descheenie. They asked him if he was in the States illegally and told him to get out of the country. Eric Descheenie is a Native American Navajo. Trump has moved the issue of immigration from an intellectual debate to a simplified racial feud.
Trump’s distorted hateful discourse has profound adverse effects on immigrants. A report published by Migration Policy Institute (MPI), shows that immigrant children both personally and structurally experience discrimination in school (Adair, 2015). Their peers and even teachers make them feel unwelcome, which inhibits their learning. Often, kids own their age call them names, make fun of their appearance or accent, and even teachers act impatient with them (Adair, 2015). Although the report was published before Trump took office, its findings are still crucial to how the nation should alter its attitude towards immigrants today. It shows that the nation should be improving its treatment immigrants, not worsening it, if immigrant children are to succeed. Children tend to believe and exaggerate everything they hear, which can be toxic when the president has so boldly said things about immigrants that most school children would get in trouble for saying. Trump’s open anti-immigrant sentiment makes bigotry seem more acceptable, as shown by the group of Trump supporters yelling hateful language in Arizona. Moreover, his policies have instilled a constant fear of deportation in families of illegal immigrants(Schochet, 2017). This creates a stressful environment for families seeking asylum in the United States, a nation that has prided itself for years in accepting others (Schochet 2017). Another adverse effect of Trump’s rhetoric is that victims of human trafficking who have come to the country illegally now fear coming forward. A study published in January showed eighty-two percent of social service providers who responded say survivors had concerns about contacting the police (Freedom Network USA). Seventy percent of respondents say they believe survivors will stay with their traffickers longer “given the recent political shift” (Irby, 2018). The temperament and policies from the White House have created a hostile environment for immigrants.
Trump’s policies and rhetoric towards immigrants has a broadening impact that pushes further than what one would expect. Some adverse consequences include decreased tourism and general economic loss. In the first half of 2017, following Trump’s inauguration, the number of international tourists decreased by four percent compared to the same period of the year before (Rodriguez, 2018). Even that minor drop in tourism means the country has lost billions of dollars so far (Rodriguez, 2018). Moreover, immigration itself has a positive impact on the economy and undocumented workers increase the GDP(de Costa, 2017). In general, immigrants provide population growth, increased tax receipts, and diversified people and ideas, all good things for the economy (de Costa, 2017). Even for those who do not care about the livelihood of immigrants, what the president says about them has rippling impacts across the country.
The changing of U.S.C.I.S.’s mission statement moves the nation away from its roots as an immigrant country. For a nation filled with immigrants and their ancestors, problematizing new immigrants is incredibly hypocritical. It places new immigrants into an “other” category, another testament to the current presidential administration’s hateful rhetoric toward immigrants. This type of rhetoric has broad negative impacts on immigrants, their families, and the United States. It creates a hostile environment for existing immigrants, which systematically disadvantages them and their families. Furthermore, this attitude hurts the United States’ image and economy.
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Francis, Nathan. “Trump Supporters At Anti-Immigration Rally Shout ‘Get Out Of The Country’ To Dark-Skinned Navajo Lawmaker.” The Inquisitr, The Inquisitr, 28 Jan. 2018, www.inquisitr.com/4759252/trump-supporters-at-anti-immigration-rally-shout-get-out-of-the-country-to-dark-skinned-navajo-lawmaker/.