We have a long history in the United States of blaming immigrants — whether German, Irish, Catholic, Chinese or, more recently, Hispanic and Muslim — for society’s ills. Immigrants are called criminal and morally corrupt when, in fact, the crime rate for immigrants is much less than for U.S.-born citizens.
Immigrants are set up as the ultimate scapegoat, a convenient way to avoid looking at the true causes of complex societal problems such as rising inequality, systemic oppression and the influence of money in politics.
In addition to the human tendency to look for scapegoats, there is also the impulse to look for enemies to conquer. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, U.S. immigration agencies moved from a primary mission of regulating orderly migration to one of protecting the homeland from the perceived threat of immigrants. Young men and women coming back from serving in wars joined the ranks of the Border Patrol and were told that the border is the new “front line,” and the “illegal alien” became the new enemy.
Painting any group of people as less than human or as a threat can be used to justify all manner of evil. During the Holocaust, the crimes of a handful of Jewish people were used to justify the persecution of all Jews. Some policymakers in the U.S. today seek to highlight the crimes of a handful of immigrants to justify mass deportations and tearing children from their mothers’ arms.
Stories of thousands of children being forcibly separated from their parents tugged at the moral conscience of the U.S. public this spring and, after an outcry, the official policy was ended. However, family separations at the border were merely the tip of a large iceberg.
President Trump, like President Obama before him, has presided over the separation of hundreds of thousands of families through detention and deportation. The overwhelming majority of these posed no threat to their communities. They were merely seeking a chance to work and to keep their families together and safe from harm.
Most immigrants coming to the U.S. are not asking for help or handouts. They simply want opportunities to thrive and to contribute to their communities.
They also want to not be hunted down like animals and put into cages, nor violently torn away from their children.
Our society has much to gain and little to lose in welcoming immigrants. Multiple studies have shown that offering more paths to legal immigration would bring significant economic benefits. But, instead of encouraging orderly migration, current policies seek to remove both undocumented and documented immigrants from the U.S., causing worker shortages in industries from agriculture, construction and elder care to high-tech workers, doctors and nurses — and needlessly and traumatically separating families.
Small towns and cities such as Storm Lake, Iowa; Long Prairie, Minn.; and Hazleton, Pa.; have come to realize the benefits of a rising immigrant population. They see growing communities, new businesses and full school buildings as blessings. They work through any challenges that arise.
We can enjoy the numerous blessings immigrants bring when we welcome instead of scapegoat; when we see Jesus in our immigrant neighbors; when we remember that God asked us to care for one another, especially those with the greatest need; and when we remember that God loves everyone, regardless of where they were born.