No Longer a ‘Nation of Immigrants’?
Since its founding, the United States has been a nation of immigrants. Most people who live in the United States today have an ancestor who immigrated to the land. 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 reflects the increasing prominence of right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.
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. 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 phrase “nation of immigrants” was popularized by President John F. Kennedy to highlight the contribution 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.” The phrase “nation of immigrants” reflects the nature of this country. 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 lot of other cultures, and there are very few people who can claim this is there territory for ethnic reasons. 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.
The director of U.S.C.I.S., L. Francis Cissna, 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,” (https://www.uscis.gov/). 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. This shift in the mission statement reflects the increasing prominence of the negative attitude towards immigrants in the United States.
President Trump has promoted a hateful attitude towards immigrants, particularly Mexican ones, since he first announced his desire to run for presidency. His infamous claim that Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs,” “bringing crime,” and were “rapists,” (Tierney, 2016), presented a hateful attitude towards a group of people that already experiences discrimination. 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).
Trump’s open anti-immigrant sentiment makes this attitude seem more acceptable. 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 acceptance of others.
The changing of U.S.C.I.S.’s mission statement moves the nation away from its roots as an immigrant country. It places new immigrants into an “other” category, another testament to the current administration’s hateful rhetoric toward immigrants. It makes the country feel less welcoming and serves as a reminder of the president’s anti-immigration stance. For a nation filled with immigrants and their ancestors, it is unacceptable to problematize new immigrants or those of one specific ethnic group.
“Homepage.” USCIS, www.uscis.gov/.
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“How Young Children of Immigrants Face Discrimination At School.” New America, www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/early-discrimination/.
Jordan, Miriam. “Is America a ‘Nation of Immigrants’? Immigration Agency Says No.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Feb. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/02/22/us/uscis-nation-of-immigrants.html.
Schochet, Leila. “Trump’s Immigration Policies Are Harming American Children.” Center for American Progress, www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2017/07/31/436377/trumps-immigration-policies-harming-american-children/.
Tierney, Dominic. “Trump’s Unspeakable Strategy to Erase His Past.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 10 Feb. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/trumps-unspeakable-strategy-to-erase-his-past/458748/.